Fort Bend STRONG – Neighbors Helping Neighbors

On Friday, August 25, 2017, Fort Bend County received a most unwelcome visitor.  Hurricane Harvey began with unprecedented amounts of rain for days on end, multiple tornados and flooding in areas that was truly baffling.

Early in the rain event, the weather service increased their forecast for the Brazos river to crest at 59 feet, which exceeds the 100-year flood mark of 56 feet according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  In the end, Harvey was historic.

The Brazos crested at a record of 55.19 feet at Richmond.

The forecast constituted mandatory evacuations throughout Fort Bend.

Many homes and business were affected – some were completely destroyed.

While Harvey’s devastating destruction on Fort Bend will be recorded for posterity, the response of Fort Bend – our community, our cities, our county, our elected officials, our citizens, our friends, our neighbors, our organizations, our businesses – that’s where history has truly been made.  Neighbors helping neighbors. Together, we are  .  .  .

Being prepared for an event that is unprecedented may sound like an anomaly.  After all, how can one be prepared for something that is unimaginable?  But Fort Bend County and its two largest cities – Missouri City and Sugar Land – were prepared when Hurricane Harvey knocked on our door and ready to do what they do:  protect and serve.

Immediately after the storm hit, 175 people sheltered at Sugar Land First United Methodist Church after being evacuated. Representative Pete and Nancy Olson, along with friends and neighbors, trudged through the flooded streets to help bring food and supplies to the shelter to care for the evacuees. “From the minute Hurricane Harvey hit our coast, I have been in awe of the Texas spirit and generosity of folks from across the country who have stepped up to help us with the recovery,” said Representative Olson. “Texans always look out for each other and in our darkest hour, we were there for each other. As we continue the long road to recovery, we will continue to be present for one another. If folks in TX-22 need federal assistance, my office is ready to help. Please visit if you need help.”

‘Life Safety First’ is the culture the City of Sugar Land adopted several years ago and has implemented in all employee training,” said Christopher Steubing, Assistant City Manager for the City of Sugar Land.  When City of Sugar Land employees are hired, they are categorized into one of three levels, and if they are able to get to work safely, they have a pre-determined duty based on their assigned level during an emergency event.

Missouri City staff train throughout the year for emergency events as well, but the amount of rain in such a short period of time, along with two tornadoes, was an expected challenge.  “Our staff were fully prepared and did an excellent job under the circumstances they were faced with; they were phenomenal,” said Mayor Allen Owen.  “We did have two tornadoes hit our City, which did add another element to the already flooding situation.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in either one.  Some of our employees suffered losses themselves yet continued to work to help others.  Missouri City has a staff of the most dedicated group of employees, and it was so impressive to witness.  Once again, their response proved that we are ‘The Show Me City.’”

Standing Vigil Around the Clock

All hands were on deck at the Fort Bend County OEM including Tanka, the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office service dog, with Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert

All three entities – Fort Bend County, Missouri City and Sugar Land – had Emergency Operations Centers open around the clock beginning the evening of Friday, August 25th – the day Harvey came to town.  Staff members worked 12-hour shifts with some even eating and sleeping there until the first of September, and all command centers were in communication with one other, as well as other cities in Fort Bend.

The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management in Richmond was command central for the county with Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert at the helm.  During the event, Judge Hebert shared his greatest concern for Fort Bend residents as the rains continued day after day.  “The forecasted 59-foot crest at Richmond caused the greatest worry for me because it put so many more people at risk. Once the forecast dropped to 56 feet, I really relaxed a bit for the first time. The rain had slowed significantly, and 56 feet at Richmond was a 100-year flood event, and I knew our levees would hold the river back. I knew the boundaries of the disaster, as bad as they were, would not be as bad as the early forecasts projected.”

The Fort Bend Response

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Senator Joan Huffman visited a volunteer disaster recovery center at Common Threads Richmond headed up by Jill Dubin. Dubin worked tirelessly along with many Lamar CISD teachers, volunteers and Boy Scouts to assist the community with food, shelter, cleaning supplies and clothing.

As days turned into nights and then again, Fort Bend was hit repeatedly, and hit hard.  The only thing stronger than Hurricane Harvey were the people of Fort Bend.  “Our community was all in this together,” said Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman.  Sugar Land restaurants, businesses, employees and citizens all stepped up to assist during the event however they were needed providing food, support and supplies.  “What a special place we live in where all of our citizens pull together to help one another.  The response was just outstanding.”

As Judge Hebert and the team at the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management guided us through the storm, he, too, witnessed the resolve of our community.  “I could not be prouder of our Fort Bend community,” he shared. “Everywhere I turned, I saw evidence of folks going out of their way to help others. I have high expectations for our first responders, and they exceeded them. I had high hopes that neighbors would respond to assist those who suffered losses, and our community made my hope a reality. Fort Bend is strong, and will remain strong throughout the recovery.”

A major contribution to the community’s ability to pull together and assist one another was reliable, timely and accessible information.  All three entities – Fort Bend County, Missouri City and Sugar Land – had major presences on social media and the internet throughout the event.  Both mayors and the judge hosted live updates keeping citizens informed on Fort Bend issues.

As the floodwaters cleared, St. Laurence Catholic Church in Sugar Land filled up to serve as a collection and distribution center for donations. In their first week of operation, parishioners donated over 100,000 items plus $120,000 in gift cards. Volunteers filled baskets for over 200 families, and transferred donations to four other Fort Bend agencies.
“It’s been so heartwarming to see the generous response from our parishioners uniting with neighbors from other faith communities for one goal: to bring relief to those who are suffering,” shared St. Laurence Social Concerns Ministry Director Pennie DeGroot. “It really is love in action. It is a great privilege to be part of this effort.” Photos by Myke Toman.

“The ability to have a direct conversation with our citizens was very powerful,” said Assistant Communications Director Doug Adolph for the City of Sugar Land.  “We were able to focus on what was important and accurate in our community.”  Adolph explained that dealing with misinformation during an emergency is as paramount of an issue as providing accurate information.  The City of Sugar Land hosted rumor versus fact sessions with city officials on social media to dispel myths that were brought to their attention.

Missouri City Director of Communications Stacie Walker described their City’s social media presence as “an internal and external partnership.”  “We were able to communicate with the community directly and immediately regarding where flooding was occurring, who needed help, who should evacuate and where people could find housing,” shared Walker.

With a constant presence on social media and their websites, officials could effectively communicate with Fort Bend residents and let them know what to do and how to help one another.  “We got lit up with citizens wanting to know how they could donate and volunteer on social media,” shared Adolph.  “The outpouring of support and positive feedback from the community was incredible.”

Moving Fort Bend Forward

Residents and volunteers from throughout Fort Bend came to the Catholic Charities’ Food Fair and Distribution Relief at the Mamie George Community Center in Richmond for food, water, cleaning supplies and clothing. Affected residents were greeted by volunteers Jamaal Fortner, Tina Wright and Mary Martinez at the Disaster Recovery Information Booth with smiling faces and helpful information.

As our community continues to respond to Hurricane Harvey, the needs are changing.  Business are back up and running, homes are in various stages of repair and children are back in school.  But our work as a community has only just begun.

“Help can be as simple as a cup of coffee or as complicated as organizing a crew to help rebuild a home,” shared Judge Hebert.  “Do what you can, when you can, for whom you can. That is a good rule to follow following any disaster. If you wish to give money, I recommend contributing to your favorite local non-profit organization. If you do not have one, consider donating to Fort Bend Forward, a non-profit headed up by our area chambers of commerce. All funds received by Fort Bend Forward are disbursed to local non-profit and religious organizations throughout the county. It provides a safe way to put your recovery money to work in our community.”

Fort Bend County has proven through Hurricane Harvey that we do not walk alone; we walk with, by and for one another.  He walks with us as well.  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” – Isaiah 43:2.

God bless Fort Bend as we move forward.  Together, we are Fort Bend Strong.