Officials: More boats, staff needed to improve flood response - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Officials: More boats, staff needed to improve flood response

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Austin has consistently seen an increase in high urgency 911 calls, according to call center reps.

When disasters like the October flooding happen, the lack of full-time call takers becomes painfully obvious.

Bob Nicks, with the Austin Firefighters Association, says rescue efforts on Halloween were "problematic."

"I couldn't receive a boat for several hours," said Nicks.

Nicks says five boats is not enough for the city's fire department and added the water rose so fast in areas like south Pleasant Valley, fire trucks even had to turn around.

"Helicopters are certainly a great tool...but, moving a lot of people and getting to the people and finding out what the problems are intimately, you really need folks with boats," Nicks said.

During a preliminary overview of Austin Fire Department response efforts at a Public Safety Commission meeting, Commissioner Michael Levy asked Fire Chief Harry Evans about language barriers regarding alert systems.

Levy asked, "The original notifications were in English only and then you switched over correct?"

Evans said, "The first two were in English, that's correct. The last one was in English and Spanish."

Levy asked, "Are all future notifications going to be bilingual?"

"Absolutely, without a question," answered Evans.

Mario Cantu is with the Austin Neighborhood Council.

"I didn't know anybody that just walked out. They were all in survival mode. They were all trying to survive," said Cantu.

Marcia Brooks, with the 911 call center, also spoke at the meeting, saying she doesn't have enough staff to meet the increased call volume.

Brooks said, "We are a call center mecca here in this region and so, I lose people left and right, especially of late because we simply don't offer benefits."

Many people complained about being put on hold during the flood.

"Everybody has been asked to reduce overtime and as we put initiatives in place to respond to that directive, service levels have been impacted, specifically in the hold times," said Brooks.

The purpose of the meeting is to pinpoint what the city did right and what needs improvement for future disasters.

The earliest we could hear a more finalized report from city departments like police and fire and rescue would be in February.

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