Hidalgo County CSA unveils new unit to better respond to disaster

NEAR SAN CARLOS — Hidalgo County Community Services Agency Advisory Board President Julian Martinez recalled an early morning phone call he made in late May in 2016 as terrible straight-line winds barreled into Granjeno, ripping apart houses and leaving the community without power for days.

That call was to Jaime Longoria, executive director of the CSA, who had been on the job for a little more than a year.

“So I said, what are we going to do,” Longoria said from the Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Endowment Community Resource Center Wednesday morning.

The CSA, which provides services to vulnerable and low-income residents, responded to help a community that was in dire need.

Longoria realized a dream during that event, one that became a reality Wednesday morning.

“We realized that families needed to be closer to home when they are affected by disaster,” Longoria said.

That dream was realized in the CSA’s new Special Response Unit, a trailer that the CSA will bring right to the victims of a disaster to provide services, which was unveiled Wednesday morning.

Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu said when the storm hit Granjeno, the CSA were the first people on the ground and set up in city hall there.

“City hall didn’t have electricity,” Cantu said. “All of Granjeno didn’t have electricity.”

If a storm like that hit now, the CSA would hitch its special response unit to a truck and drive straight into the disaster to serve victims.

The unit has air conditioning, a bathroom, electricity, and places to sit where disaster victims can fill out applications for help.

While the seedling for the special response unit has its roots in that 2016 windstorm it grew into its own when the CSA took an old trailer and outfitted it with air-conditioning, a unit the agency took when it responded to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017.

Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricardo Saldana said during remarks on Wednesday how important the ability to go to those affected by disaster is.

“This will allow us now to get into those areas where those families can’t get into these facilities to make those claims,” Saldana said.

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs Director of External Affairs Michael Lyttle said he often uses Hidalgo County as an example of what other county’s should be doing.

“Government gets criticized a lot for not being creative or innovated,” Lyttle said.

But the lessons the county learned starting from that storm in 2016 to Wednesday morning at the unveiling of the special response unit, are a textbook example of creativity and innovation, Lyttle said.