ROBSTOWN - The Richard M. Borchard Fairgrounds is currently the site of an Incident Command Post, ICP, established by the Coast Guard and many other agencies to deal with the impact of Hurricane Harvey. From their post in Robstown, these service members are able to run search and rescue operations, assist with port protection and monitor the pollution in the water caused by the storm, which hit Rockport and left a trail of destruction up and down the Texas Gulf Coast.
Agencies currently assisting in the recovery efforts include the Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, Texas General Land Office, Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, Customs and Border Protection Agency and the American Red Cross. People from all of these agencies have come together to ensure that the Coastal Bend was able to weather the storm, and after it was weathered, to clean up and begin normal operations once again.
“Our primary focus is people, ensuring their safety. Once that is secured, we are focusing on ports and pollution,” said Coast Guard Ensign Kenneth Hawkins, Assistant Public Affairs Officer.
In order to accomplish this seemingly overwhelming mission, the ICP is broken down into many areas. The Command and General Staff area is where meetings are held, the Operations section helps to coordinate land assets and sends them to where they are needed, the Logistics and Finance area handles housing for those personnel who may require hotels or places to sleep and the Finance section keeps an eye on the necessary funds for all operations. There is an Information and Technology section, a Communications, Search and Rescue area and an Environmental and Port section. The Situation Unit monitors the entire ICP.
The fact that Naval Air Station-Corpus Christi is a Joint Sector with the Coast Guard has allowed this operation more aviation assets than may be available in other operations.
Progress is being made in the recovery efforts for areas affected by the Category 4 storm that slammed into Rockport late Friday night, and while the ICP will remain operational “indefinitely”, there is good news to be had.
“We have got the Brownsville ship channel open,” said Hawkins, who has been stationed at the ICP since he evacuated NAS on Thursday.
While the sheer logistics are mind boggling, the Joint Sector Base has a plan and is ready to act. All personnel required to operate the ICP are at the ready as soon as hurricane season starts. They refer to this state of readiness as Condition 5. Once Harvey moved into the Gulf of Mexico, they were upgraded to Condition 3, and so on, until they were at Condition 1 as Harvey struck the Gulf Coast.
“We saw the weather coming and knew to report to the fairgrounds,” said Hawkins. “The Coast Guard’s motto is Semper Paratus, which means ‘always prepared’.”
When many service members reported to the fairgrounds on Thursday night, they embodied this motto, bringing food, water and sleeping bags with them. The surrounding areas did not have electricity and those on duty at the fairgrounds did not have access to restaurants or hotels.
“I spent Thursday night on the floor in my sleeping bag,” said Hawkins, noting that he was grateful for the cot he used on Friday.
NAS-Corpus Christi houses Coast Guard operations spanning from Brownsville to Port Lavaca, after that, the Houston region takes over. Originally, forecasters had the flooding from Harvey taking place in the Corpus Christi area and as such, many troops from Houston were deployed to the Coastal Bend. Once it became clear that Houston would take the brunt of the flooding rains, those troops were dispatched back to their area to assist with operations there.
“Things are moving. We are very fortunate to have cooperation from local, state and federal ports. We all come together in times like this,” said Jason Smith, Deputy Incident Commander.
Also in a nod to their motto, the Coast Guard had just executed a hurricane preparedness drill, where the NAS was evacuated and an ICP was set up at the fairgrounds in Robstown.
“Two months ago we had a hurricane drill in this same building,” said Smith. “This is not new to us and we are very satisfied with the current operation.”
Incident Commander Tony Hahn echoed the same sentiments.
“Our prior exercises paid huge dividends. We have never wanted for capability and the City of Robstown has been so helpful to us,” Hahn said.
The ICP will remain operational until it is no longer needed, then these men and women can return to their standard operating procedure. Many of these men and women are working 12 hour shifts and are leaving family members to pick up after Harvey, something that weighs heavy on everyone’s heart.
“We love what we do,” Hawkins said. “We love to serve our country.”