On the eve of the 2013 hurricane season, memories of Ike still linger in Galveston. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry says the storm did an estimated $20-30 billion in damage, and there are still hundreds of abandoned structures left from the storm, nearly five years later. He tells KTRH the county is working to remove them, but it's a slow process that takes time, work, and a lot of money. "That's one of the unfortunate lessons (from Ike)," says Henry. "A hurricane that were to hit in 2013 we'll still be dealing with five or six years from now."
While physical damage from a storm is an inevitable outcome, Galveston leaders have taken steps to reduce the human toll of another major hurricane. The city and county both say they are much better prepared than they were when Ike struck back in 2008. For Henry, it starts with improved communications. "We now have the ability to call and send a text to every cell phone in Galveston County," he says. "We don't care what your phone number or area code is, you'll hear from us if we have an emergency and we have to declare a disaster or order an evacuation." And speaking of evacuations, those plans have also been updated. "Harris County and Galveston County have an agreement that Galveston County will have 24 hours to evacuate before any of Harris County is asked to evacuate," says Henry.
In addition to plans on paper, Galveston emergency officials have spent the past two days conducting a real-time mock disaster response to a major hurricane. The exercise covered every aspect, from the storm's approach, to its arrival, to the immediate aftermath. Preparations have gone so well that Henry says Galveston emergency officials are now often contacted by leaders in other states for help in dealing with hurricanes. If there's one big lesson from Ike, it is to be prepared for anything. "The Texans wouldn't take the field without practicing," says Henry. "That's kind of what we're doing, we're practicing for a game that hopefully never comes."