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Best Practice: Sugar Land (TX) Mayor Wallace Mobilizes Community-Based Effort to Provide Hurricane Katrina Relief

October 3, 2005


In the case of emergencies, the cliché – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – is right on the mark.

Emergencies occur quickly and without notice. As residents of the Gulf Coast, citizens of Sugar Land annually confront meteorological events, such as flash floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. Sugar Land’s efforts to plan and prepare for disaster response have resulted in accolades from various organizations, including Standard & Poors, the national bond rating agency, that awarded Sugar Land high marks for disaster preparedness following the nation’s terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

More recently, Sugar Land has been in the spotlight for community-based efforts to mobilize resources needed to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina. As evacuees poured into the Houston metropolitan area, Sugar Land, under the leadership of Mayor David G. Wallace, was an important part of a regional effort to provide services and disseminate information.

As hotels filled up and shelters were activated, local hospital emergency rooms began receiving a number of evacuees seeking non-emergency services. In order to preserve the ability to provide emergency services, Wallace brought together community leaders to identify the best way to provide all needed services.

The idea of a community clinic grew into a facility that provided a number of needed social services for evacuees. Working with city leaders, Sugar Land’s former City Hall, a facility that had recently been vacated, was targeted to house hurricane relief resources.

The decision to convert the old city hall building into an evacuee center was made Sunday, September 4 and the facility, renamed the Fort Bend (County) Hurricane Resource Center, was up and running the next day. Through word of mouth alone, more than 500 evacuees arrived for services on the first day of operation. This number steadily increased as media organizations broadcast stories about the center.

In addition to a full-blow clinic, the Hurricane Resource Center provided certain basic services and information on how to access other forms of assistance provided elsewhere.

Wallace helped facilitate a center that was a community-wide outreach network operated by trained professionals and volunteers from medical, faith-based, non-profit and educational organizations. The hours of operation were Sunday-Friday, from 1-7 p.m., and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and a contact number was released to the community.

The services offered included the following:

  • Medical Services: Sugar Land Methodist Hospital took the lead in establishing a clinic equipped and staffed by a number of medical service providers in the area. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, counseling and spiritual professionals and other volunteers were available. Patients were assisted with minor medical needs, basic medications, tetanus shots, immunizations, dental referrals and some related services. All services were free, and the clinic was not affiliated with individual health insurance plans or government provided medical assistance programs, such as Medicare/Medicaid. Physicians also arrived from other states to aid in providing quality health care.

  • Employment: Volunteers took general applications for possible job opportunities in Fort Bend County and the greater Houston area. After determining work skills and experience, volunteers attempted to refer individuals to potential employers with job openings. Resume assistance, computers, phones and fax services were also provided. In the first week of operation, more than 530 evacuees obtained job interviews/referrals.

  • Daycare: Families were directed to free quality day care services while seeking employment and tending to other critical needs.

  • Food/Clothing: Families and individuals were directed to organizations providing free food and clothing.

  • Education: Many area public and private schools accepted pre'school, elementary, middle school, high school and college students from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Enrollment and registration forms and materials, campus and attendance zone maps and other helpful information was available at the resource center. More than 3,000 students were enrolled at schools throughout the county, with half placed in Sugar Land schools.

  • Housing: Limited temporary housing and shelter assistance was immediately available at the resource center, as well as referrals to government agencies and community-based organizations with information on permanent housing services. Working with regional officials, Wallace was later able to secure permanent housing units for evacuees accessing services.

  • Transportation: Volunteers coordinated transportation services to and from select locations in Fort Bend County, including a shuttle to the county office coordinating distribution of food stamps.

  • Senior Services: Information was available on resources for the elderly, including services such as meals, transportation, medical equipment and short-term senior housing.

  • Computer/Internet/Long Distance Access: Evacuees searching for friends, family and loved ones were provided controlled access to computers and phones with long distance capabilities. These services were also made available job search purposes.

FEMA, Red Cross, United Way and other governmental and non-governmental organizations responsible for vouchers and other forms of direct financial assistance were not located at the Center. However, FEMA’s first mobile disaster assistance unit was dispatched to the Center.

This difficult situation brought out the best in Sugar Land and other Fort Bend County citizens. The outpouring of support, compassion and love was overwhelming. The spirit of volunteerism and community support reached a level never seen in the community.

The activation, volunteer support and ongoing operations of the Fort Bend Hurricane Resource Center touched thousands of lives. As the effort transitioned from the initial needs of emergency health, food, clothing and shelter, to one of employment, education, housing, transportation, medical and other financial needs, the community renewed its commitment.

During the next phase, when care and support focused on a longer term and sustainable nature, volunteer resources were consolidated to non-profit and governmental agencies located throughout the community.

Even as the Center closed on September 17, community groups did not reduce support for those in need.

The commitment to providing sustained, focused service prompted regional leaders to described Sugar Land’s delivery approach as a “best practice.”

The primary images that best illustrate this effort are the countless examples of support, assistance, grace and love that have poured out from the Sugar Land community to help our fellow Americans.

For information on Sugar Land’s community-based effort following Hurricane Katrina, contact Doug Adolph, Public Information Officer, Sugar Land, at 281-275-2724 or dba@sugarlandtx.gov.