Houston is no stranger to disasters of every kind imaginable, from small to big ones. Hurricanes, fires, explosions, hazardous materials spills, evacuations, rescues from floods; this area has them all and they all require a coordinated and rapid response among many government agencies and communities. Houston Tran Star is globally recognized for managing southeast Texas’ transportation system and functions as the primary coordination site for responding to incidents and emergencies. As a part of Houston Trans Star, the Harris County Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) plays a key role in that process.
On Dec. 11, Richard Herrera, the interim management coordinator and emergency operations center manager for METRO, provided an insight of how the response process works when he spoke to the attendees of the Atascocita Community Response Task Force (CRTF) meeting. Although he talked mainly from the standpoint of METRO’s role and his own personal experience, it was clear overall response is the responsibility of Houston Tran Star, a management organization comprised of METRO, the City of Houston, Harris County and TxDOT (The Texas Department of Transportation).
“METRO is basically, roughly 4,000 employees. We have bus barns and bus stops scattered all over the inner part of the system. We work with 14 member cities. Houston gets the lion’s share of the service, but the 14 cities and Harris County do, too,” Herrera said.
He explained that METRO serves roughly 1,285 square miles with 1,200 buses in service with about 9,000 bus stops. There are 28 Park and Rides and the METRO Rail System now totals 22 miles of rail and 76 light rail vehicles.
Herrera explained that it was the size and reach, along with equipment and manpower, that stretches across the region that makes METRO such an important part of disaster-response coordination. His job is to represent METRO in the overall effort as a major part of Trans Star. Over the past few years, Herrera was personally active more than a dozen times in METRO’s Emergency Operations Center during emergency events. During Hurricane Harvey he assisted METRO’s Safety Department to clear routes and managed a West Houston evacuation point.
Regarding METRO’s role in evacuations coordinated through Trans Star, Herrera noted METRO’s Buses are not generally available depending on the situation. However, METRO is always deeply involved.
“We plan for medical assistance, evacuations and overall management of the buses and other vehicles. We have contracted with school districts for buses for evacuations,” Herrera said. He explained that during Hurricane Harvey, Trans Star coordinated 15,000 evacuations. METRO also provides buses for use as cooling stations for firefighters to cool down in while fighting big fires and other major disasters.
Herrera called attention to the Trans Star surveillance cameras everyone sees on the roads and freeways all around Houston and noted how lots of people think they are threats to privacy or are too costly to justify. However, he pointed out that they are the key to real-time responsive actions not only during normal Houston traffic when accidents occur but especially in managing major emergency responses and evacuations.
He closed his presentation by noting the importance of constantly planning.
“When the National Weather Service says something is out there, we start watching and planning, even when it is off the coast of Africa. The minute METRO does not plan for an event, something will blow up,” said Herrera.
Monthly CRTF informational meetings will continue to be held in the meeting room at Rosewood Funeral Home in Atascocita on the second Friday of the month from 1-2 p.m. until further notice. Planned speakers are:
- January: Tyler A. Parker, Union Pacific Hazardous Materials emergency manager
- February: Laurie Christiansen, Harris County Fire Marshal
- March: Chris Collier, director of response, SETRAC
The public is invited to attend, especially by Zoom teleconference. Details of the meetings, changes and Zoom access information are maintained on the webpage crtf.org/calendar.