Staying prepared: Over 2,000 attend county’s All Hazards conference

Head gear is on display at a booth for Safeware Mallory Safety Solutions and Services at the Hazards Conference on Wednesday, March,27, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Hidalgo County’s All Hazards Conference received a hat tip from several state agencies Wednesday for its continued growth and its focus to educate everyone who responds to natural and manmade disasters.

Now in its seventh year, the two-day conference kicked off with a video message from Gov. Greg Abbott and keynote speeches from several other dignitaries, including one by Texas Department of Public Safety Chief W. Nim Kidd, of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“I didn’t register for this conference today, I’ll tell you why,” he said during a news conference Wednesday. “Because in the seven years that it’s been around, I think it’s bigger than the state’s emergency conference, so I didn’t want to add one more to the (list).”

Organizers touted the conference as the second largest of its kind in the state and the only free one offered to invited participants.

Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Rick Saldaña, who also served as the conference incident commander, estimated more than 2,000 people had attended the event during opening day Wednesday.

The conference offers a number of breakout sessions with over 70 presenters and follows a standardized approach to emergency management developed by the Department of Homeland Security, Saldana said.

“In this day and age, we must take every opportunity to train, not only our first responders, but also the support staff, in the unified command structure because during an emergency, (this structure) ensures that crucial information is communicated (effectively),” Saldaña said.

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes spoke about the coordinated effort that was carried out by a number of agencies and nonprofits that responded to major flooding in his precinct in June 2018, when within a 36-hour window, Hidalgo County received 34 inches of rain.

“This was a very significant rain event,” Fuentes recalled. “We didn’t have the 65 mile-per-hour winds to classify it as a hurricane, but it was just as damaging with the amount of rainfall that we had. It inundated our system and it really showed how important it was for all of us to be able to work together.”

But the Rio Grande Valley is well adept to working together, said David Gruber, associate commissioner for regional and local health operations for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Again, I get a chance to go all over the state,” he said. “I will say publicly that this region is probably the most cohesive region of all the regions — for numerous reasons — but that fact is that you do work together … and that’s the most important thing.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling reiterated the importance of collaborating.

“I think the most important thing to remember is that there are no city limits or jurisdictions when it comes to disasters,” he said. “This conference is symbolic of that cooperation. We have enforcement, public works, and literally everybody that is involved in natural disasters.”

The conference will continue Thursday.