Above, San Marcos dispatchers receive thank-you baskets from employees from the Hays County Sheriff’s Office and Kyle Police Department for their help and accommodation during the winter storms. Photo courtesy of the City of San Marcos
City staff, partners help community during February's winter storm
The San Marcos Dispatch Center received a high volume of calls during the worst days of February’s winter storm, while city first responders and utility staff aided residents throughout the unprecedented time.
The City of San Marcos released information Friday regarding the amount of calls received and responded to throughout the storm.
“I am proud of the way the city addressed the unprecedented challenges that arose during the winter storms,” City Manager Bert Lumbreras said. “Even while experiencing power interruptions and water outages at their own homes, staff members from across the city put our citizens first and served our community in very dangerous and difficult circumstances.”
Amid the peak of the winter storm, city dispatchers received 1,595 calls in a single 24-hour period, and nearly tripled 2020’s average weekly call volume between Feb. 14-20, according to the city.
San Marcos saw an increased call volume due to several weather-related issues at partner facilities, including a busted pipe and equipment failures at the Hays County Emergency Communications Center, the city said.
Following the disruptions at partner facilities, the San Marcos 911 Center absorbed all calls that would’ve been routed through the Hays County Emergency Communications Center, which included calls from Buda, Wimberley, Dripping Springs and Driftwood. San Marcos 911 Center also aided Texas State University’s Police Department after a generator failure caused telecommunicators from that agency to process calls by hand and coordinate on personal cellphones, the city said.
“Our 911 Centers have worked together closely for years to help each other,” San Marcos Police Department Support Services Division Manager Audry Verver said. “We support each other without hesitation because we all have the same goal of providing consistent and quality emergency services, even if that means we have to lean on each other to make it happen.”
With high call volumes facing 911 dispatch, city employees from multiple departments — including Information Technology and Human Resources — set up and operated an emergency winter weather hotline. The volunteer call center answered over 2,280 calls to address residents’ “non-emergency concerns, offer them access to resources, and help them work through understandable frustrations caused by storm-related challenges,” the city said.
The call center expanded operations and contacted over 8,000 San Marcos Electric Utility customers by phone to provide utility welfare checks as services began to be restored, the city said, adding that employees who staffed the emergency hotline spent 226 hours on the phone assisting San Marcans.
“These employees really stepped up to the challenge,” said Director of Information Technology Mike Sturm, who helped set up the hotline. “Their work and dedication proved that the city is truly committed to serving its citizens.”
Alongside dispatch’s work, SMPD estimates that it responded to 1,892 calls for service. San Marcos Fire estimates it responded to 587 calls for service, while Hays County EMS estimates it responded to 405 calls for service.
The city said firefighters managed to devote time to repairing residents’ generators, San Marcos police officers provided welfare checks, delivered meals and drove discharged patients home from the hospital despite the increased call volume.
Additionally, employees worked 12-hours amid the increased demand, the city said, adding that telecommunicators, firefighters, and police officers were unable to travel safely and many slept on cots, couches, and mattresses scattered inside facilities.
“The efforts of the City’s first responders during the unprecedented winter storm prove that they are true public servants,” said SMPD Chief Stan Standridge.
In an effort to aid citizens in need during the storm, San Marcos police and fire alongside Hays County EMS provided elderly residents at Stone Brook Seniors Community with food and water.
As electric outages directed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas occurred throughout the city, San Marcos Electric Utility and Water and Wastewater crews worked 24-hours-a-day and clocked more than 1,000 hours to restore services to customers.
Transportation crews also worked more than 1,000 working hours out in the weather to keep streets passable and safe for those who had to travel. The city said crews pre-treated roads to prevent ice, sanded slick roads and walkways, plowed snow, closed dangerous streets and repaired traffic signals.
“Temperatures below freezing are always challenging, but this group worked non-stop in the most hazardous of conditions to keep service in place for customers and to restore service to those without it,” Public Services Director Tom Taggart said.
The city said the same commitment to service was evident in its efforts to assist members of the community that had no place to go to escape from the impending frigid temperatures. Code Compliance staff, SMPD’s Homeless Outreach Team, and patrol officers combed the streets for days, offering vouchers and other resources to people in need to get them into shelters or local hotels.
Together with community partners at The Salvation Army, Southside Community Center, and H.O.M.E. Center of Central Texas, they were able to find warm beds for more than 150 people. The number is more than San Marcos’ entire homeless population, according to the most recent Point-in-Time Count conducted by the H.O.M.E. Center.
With the help of San Marcos Consolidated ISD, many more people were offered temporary warming centers and warming buses.
Southside Community Center worked to supply meals to San Marcos residents, partnering with Soulful Creations food truck to prepare and distribute more than 10,000 hot meals, the city said. Code Compliance and Resource Recovery teams also prepared and delivered thousands of meals and bags filled with food while employees from departments across the city, including Parks and Recreation, helped distribute more than 36,000 bottles of clean water to the community.
As San Marcos residents fought through challenges throughout February’s historic winter weather, the city, its staff and its partners worked to meet the community’s needs with compassion, care, and understanding.
“Our employees and community members always think outside the box to help each other in times of need, and this storm was no exception,” Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp said. “By working together each day, they delivered critical services and performed tasks beyond their job descriptions.”