Texas is home to many industrial innovations that are admired by even the most storm-prone parts of the country. Cities across the state pride themselves on resilience that shows a readiness to face adversity every day — even natural disasters.
Hurricane Harvey may have been the most devastating tropical storm in U.S. history. Making landfall in southeastern Texas at the end of August, the event produced 130-mph winds and nearly 40 inches of rainfall in the span of four days — nearly the annual average at Bush International Airport in Houston. Hundreds of residents were stranded from their homes.
But combined heat and power (CHP) and microgrid technology aren’t the limits of a resilience strategy. There’s a social component that may go unsung. One thing that hasn’t changed is the community’s loyalty, tenacity and selflessness when the time comes to lend a hand. Here are four everyday employees who lent theirs.
1. Lynda Dodson
Purchasing agents don’t have a natural connection to disaster response, but for Lynda, it didn’t matter. As the purchasing manager for Veolia's waste treatment complex in Port Arthur, Tx., Lynda Dodson was a chief reason the facility stayed up and running throughout the storm and its staff didn’t go hungry. And, she did it all while stranded at home.
Highway 95 was closed in both directions. You could only get to her by boat. But with the gasoline coworkers delivered to run her generator, Lynda returned the favor twofold: When grocery stores were empty, she had water, fresh meat and crockpot-ready food sent to her colleagues, most of whom slept on the office floor of the 450-acre facility. When the plant itself was out of the fuel, she found and sent in the necessary chemicals — allowing a critical utility to continue managing nearly 500,000 pounds of hazardous waste per day.
But Lynda was quick to mention how her efforts had ample support from managers and supervisors who, although stranded at their homes, never failed to attend a conference call or check in on the plant and its employees.
"If you’ve ever had your [personal belongings] destroyed by a storm, it’s extremely hard to focus on anything else," she said of her colleagues.
2. Scott Hilton
Scott Hilton, a thermal product manager in Port Arthur, knows how critical safety is to environmental operations, but that attitude extends beyond his day job. And after rescuing his two sons Garrett and Clayton when his own house flooded, he clocked right back into work — just not in the same way he normally does.
Texas’s local authorities need just as much help as the residents they serve in times of crisis, and emergency response is an instinct that defines employees like Scott. With that in mind, the Texas resident joined a group of vessels traveling across floodwater to help his fellow residents escape water-damaged homes and access the resources they needed.
"Safety is critical to our operation in Port Arthur and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t care about my neighbors the same way," Scott said. "But there were literally hundreds of young, everyday volunteers doing the same. It made you feel good about the up-and-coming generation willing and wanting to help others."
3. Rob Walker
Rob Walker specializes in resource conservation and recovery, but during Hurricane Harvey, he went far beyond his own needs when flooding on critical roadways prevented hundreds of families from evacuating.
"I was asked, ‘can you run the end loader?' I could, and I just did anything I could do to help."
While rising stormwater trapped hundreds of employees in their offices, hundreds more families were unable to leave by way of main roads, depriving them of the same food and freshwater. At the height of the hurricane, Rob spent each day cooking meals and fetching necessary bedding, toiletries and cleaning supplies for coworkers whose homes were flooded beyond recovery. When the water lowered, he joined colleague Jeff Norman in bulldozing debris off of streets to east and west of Labelle Road on Highway 73, so his community had immediate access to Winnie — a town further inland.
About 20 minutes after they cleared a path, officials reopened the highway.
4. Mike Boudreaux
"To see the despair in people’s eyes, it makes you want to keep going, to push further in," says Mike Boudreaux, a maintenance mechanic in Port Arthur, Tx. Hurricane Harvey hit Houston on Monday evening, when Mike was watching coverage on television and decided he couldn’t just sit around anymore waiting for the storm to reach his community.
"We had eight airboats, eight captains and every boat had a person with them to spot and a fire fighter to communicate on the radio," he recalled. That night they saved at least 150 flood victims, some of which had to be cut from their attics because of the deep waters. Between the eight airboats, Mike estimates they saved at least 500 people by the end of the storm, carrying as many people as possible to shelters.
Anyone willing to leave their home to help others during such a devastating event needs to be recognized. "It was a humbling experience," Mike added. "It’s more about the help you give others and not so much what people are going think later on."
These people may have gone out of their way to help their neighbors, but they accompanied hundreds of other citizens who transcended their daily job description the moment they saw someone who needed help.
"They were resourceful," observed Mike Richter, VP of Corporate Health and Safety for Veolia North America. "Some of them worked 18 hours a day. The plant would have had to shut down without Lynda’s arrangements. And, we had Pennsylvania pork." (Mike himself was named acting chef). "These people were incredible."
This article is dedicated to those who stood up, off the clock, to save someone who needed assistance during one of the most significant environmental events to ever strike the Gulf Coast. Although Veolia sites like the Port Arthur Waste Treatment Complex stayed operational throughout the ordeal, countless neighborhoods struggled to do the same. Their initiative, that of their colleagues and the rest of Texas is what makes these people genuine stewards of their communities.