Post-Flood Report: Mixed 'After Action' Reviews

171 action items needing improvement

Aftermath of the Onion Creek flood
Aftermath of the Onion Creek flood (photo by John Anderson)

On Friday, April 11, City Manager Marc Ott released the Austin and Travis County "After Action Report" on the Oct. 31, 2013, Halloween flood. The review involved 31 city and 10 county agencies, and four regional "stakeholders." In his transmittal memo, Ott noted 171 action items needing improvement, which he said would be completed within six months.

The 84-page report (about half of which is detailed appendices) breaks out three categories of analysis: "what worked well" (106 items); "needs improvement" (123 items); and "did not work" (48 items). Ott notes that the latter category is "only" 20% of the total, although the numerical breakdown is uneven – some of the items in each category are major issues (e.g., the failure of the early warning system), others are minor and readily resolved (the need for a joint press-release template).

The greatest failure, of course, was the early warning system, partly due to the sheer fury of the floodwaters – which quickly overwhelmed crucial flood gauges – and the report reads simply: "The early warning system for Onion Creek did not work." That meant crucial delay in letting people know that the waters were rising, and therefore dangerous delay in evacuation. The lack of sufficient warning heads the list of criticisms mentioned in a subsequent community survey; by contrast, residents praised both the subsequent city debris removal and the response of volunteers.

The report summarizes the overall damage, from a flood that exceeded Austin's legendary 1921 flooding: "In Austin/Travis County, there were 745 homes that received some level of flood damage. Of these, 116 were completely destroyed, 441 received major damage, 122 had minor damage, and 66 were reported as being affected. In Travis County, four people lost their lives due to this storm."

And the report also notes that subsequent cleanup efforts were slowed somewhat by the demands on local resources: "It is important to note that during the activation of the EOC [Emergency Operations Center] for this flooding incident, HSEM [Homeland Security and Emergency Management] and TCOEM [Travis County Office of Emer­gency Management] staff, along with other EOC responders, managed the second Formula 1 United States Grand Prix™ with approximately 113,000 attendees and just under 100,000 attendees at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for the [UT-Okla­ho­ma State] football game the weekend of 15-17 November."

The report makes five broad recommendations for better communication:

1) Organize a process for meeting and briefing policymakers early in an incident.

2) Provide training to keep policymakers up-to-date on how they can access information and staff operational procedures.

3) Establish and communicate to policymakers clear points of contact for them during an event.

4) Ensure that there are organized plans to guarantee officials and policymakers have access to impacted sites.

5) Develop a process for ensuring policymakers have current and consistent information to share with the community.

The report itself was compiled by HSEM and TCOEM, and can be read with this story online at

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News, Austin Halloween flood, Onion Creek, Marc Ott, Austin Emergency Operations Center, Travis County Emergency Management, Homeland Secuirty and Emergency Management, Otis Latin

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