Local, state leaders prepare for emergencies

McALLEN — More than 1,500 participants kicked off the South Texas All Hazards Hurricane Conference on Wednesday to prepare for all sorts of potential emergencies in the Rio Grande Valley.

Now in its fourth year, the conference draws in experts from all fields, including public safety, fire, police, EMS and many others, said Eddie Olivarez, Hidalgo County chief administrative officer for Health and Human Services.

“Interoperability is the core of all emergency operations,” Olivarez said. “And I’m proud to say that the Rio Grande Valley has proven time and time again that during hurricanes, during fires, during public health incidences, we are ready to respond and work in that interoperative component — not only at the state level, but at the federal level as well.”

The two-day conference featured breakout sessions that involved everything from learning how to keep calm during stressful situations to horseback rescues. Helicopters and K-9 units were on hand practicing drills that ranged from rescue operations to neutralizing threats.

The objective is to keep everyone up to date on the latest developments involving emergencies, Olivarez said. There are guidelines set by the state of Texas and the federal government that outline various protocols. These guidelines are updated every five years and the region is working on updating them again this year.

The event is also important to build trust and communication between various agencies, including U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which have “stepped up to the plate” in times of need to offer a helping hand, Olivarez said.

Many residents in South Texas fear an emergency evacuation, as many of them are undocumented. U.S. Border Patrol RGV Sector Chief Padilla, however, said that should not be a concern for the public.

“Whenever you have an actual disaster like that, the safety of the community is first and foremost,” Padilla said. “When it comes to preparing and responding to a hurricane, for example, as part of a community effort, the last thing that we have on the books is checking immigration documents.”