Looking back, moving forward: Business Operations after Harvey

For Houston Independent School District Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, dumping an unprecedented 51 inches of water on city.

“I remember being excited about the start of school. We were ready to welcome our students and have a good year,” said Busby, who oversees HISD’s Business Operations division. “And just like that, it came to a screeching halt.”

The damage was considerable. With nearly all schools needing some repair and a few so damaged they would need to be rebuilt, the start of school was postponed by two weeks. Some schools were so damaged that they were delayed further or even relocated to temporary campuses.

As people across the city tried to wrap their minds around the tragedy, Busby and his team — made up of the departments who create the foundation upon which student success can be built — went to work.

From Facilities Services to the HISD Police Department, all Business Operations departments worked around the clock to normalize operations, address crises, repair damage, and lend a hand to the city of Houston in it’s time of need.

“Our Business Operations division was faced with a crisis of epic proportions and our students weren’t able to start the school year as scheduled,” Busby said. “Looking back, we were up against tough odds.”

Although the memory of second-costliest storm to hit the United States still lingers, Business Operations continues to move forward. Here’s a look at how each department in the division is using the lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey to plan for future natural disasters.

Nutrition Services
As Hurricane Harvey meandered through the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall on the Texas coast, Nutrition Services administration and staff went into crisis mode, gathering bottles of water and non-perishable food to donate in the storm’s aftermath. Once the storm passed, the department established nine community feeding sites, where the public could eat three meals a day at no charge.

Moving forward, Nutrition Services has worked to streamline its efforts associated with creating community feeding sites should the need again arise. From working with vendors who are not affected by the disaster to mobilizing employees, Nutrition Services is focused on collaborating with strategic partners who will help to make community feedings more impactful and efficient.

Police Department
The HISD Police Department was on the front lines of the city’s hurricane response last year. More than 180 officers responded to hurricane-related emergencies, helping to rescue citizens who were in harm’s way during the aftermath of the storm. In preparation for the coming year, the department is focusing on having resources on-hand to assist in high-water rescues.

The department is ordering seven decommissioned Humvee vehicles through a government surplus program. The department also is adding a high-water vehicle — about the size of a dump truck — to its fleet. Kayaks and Tahoe SUVs also are included in the department’s group of vehicles and are considered tools to be utilized in a major flood event.

Facilities Services
Facilities Services played a key role in the district’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. Members of the department worked diligently to assess school damages. After evaluating the damages, the department developed a plan to get the district up and running in time for a delayed September start.

Although the district moved on from Hurricane Harvey, Facilities Services is still working to refine their disaster response through more proactive planning. The department has created a template for gathering critical documentation needed for FEMA and insurance responses. They are planning to have on hand more critical recovery items, such as sandbags and ceiling tiles. Most importantly, Facilities Services developed a task force responsible for leading recovery efforts, allowing them to mobilize quickly and efficiently.

Construction Services/Bond Program
When Hurricane Harvey hit the City of Houston, the Construction Services and Bond teams were preparing to open nine new schools as part of the 2012 Bond Program. Thanks to quality building materials, solid designs, and adherence to the city of Houston’s building codes, the schools sustained little to no damage and fare well against the wind and rain.

After Hurricane Harvey, the team did an assessment of the new schools opened under the 2012 Bond Program, documenting the building features that helped the buildings withstand the storm. The results will be used in the design of future buildings. Additionally, the department stands ready to once again work with other Business Operations departments to assist them in disaster responses.

Transportation Services
After Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston in flood waters, Transportation Services used school buses from its fleet to participate in rescue operations. Working with HISD leadership and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office, Transportation Services buses drove throughout the city rescuing people and their families.

Looking ahead, the department is working to fine tune their disaster response. Buses will still be used in future rescue operations, and a command center will be established at the Northwest Bus Terminal should another hurricane hit the city. Additionally, Transportation Services is continuing to streamline its communications channels to ensure optimal operations in advance of the next storm. The department also is establishing an emergency crew of 40 to 50 employees, who will be ready to respond should disaster strike.