In this first episode of a three-part series, guest host Kathy Fraser travels to San Antonio to chat with three responders about their combined efforts to support Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) in the response to COVID-19. They discuss how effective a unified response can be when working together as one team.
SPEAKERS: Kathy Fraser (TEEX), Darren Smith (TEEX), Bryan Davis (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension), Sgt. David Freitag (U.S. Army National Guard).
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Narrator: Welcome to the Disaster Management Podcast series. Each episode features subject matter professionals discussing strategies and techniques for emergency managers and policy makers to consider as they prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. This series is brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.
Kris: Greetings! Welcome back to our TEEX COVID Response Series. We’re happy to be back from our brief hiatus. Some of you may recognize my voice—my name is Kris Murphy. I am a Project Coordinator with TEEX, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. My primary focus is supporting the MGT-314 program, which is our resident course here in College Station. But, for the next couple of episodes, we have a guest host, Kathy Fraser. Kathy is the Director of Marketing and Communications for TEEX. Kathy has recently completed a deployment to San Antonio as part of the Texas Division of Emergency Management COVID-19 response, which is taking place around the state of Texas. I hope you’ll enjoy this quick look at how we are Texans are getting it done. In this first episode, Kathy sits down at the armory in San Antonio to chat with employees from TEEX, from Texas A&M AgriLife, and the Army National Guard about the operation there, and how they are working together, and how these efforts are making the state of Texas safer.
Kathy: What I would like to do is first introduce everybody that I am sitting with today. There are three different areas that are being used in San Antonio for this kind of combined response through Texas Division of Emergency Management. And there are a lot of players in that. And today, what I am doing is I am sitting in the.
Darren: It’s the San Antonio armory. The readiness center? Fort Sam Houston Readiness Center.
David: It’s a- and we’re having this as a Regional Staging Area, right? The RSA. The Regional Staging Area.
Kathy: Okay, and I’ll—just to keep it fast—I’ll just let you guys each introduce yourself. So just say your name, what agency you’re with, and what you’re doing on this response. So, not your everyday jobs, but for this. So, I’ll start with Darren because I happen to be looking at him.
Darren: Okay. So yeah, Darren Smith, and I’m with TEEX ESTI, the Extension division. And with this response here, I have been tasked as the Incident Support Team Lead for the San Antonio area, is what my role is.
Kathy: Cool. Okay and now you, sir.
David: I am Sergeant David Freitag with the Texas Army National Guard, and my role here is I am the platoon sergeant over the 45 soldiers that are assisting with TEEX at the armory here.
Kathy: Wonderful. And you, sir, finally.
Bryan: Yes, My name’s Bryan Davis. I am with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. I work with Darren Smith and Sergeant Freitag, and work with the Pony Express getting deliveries to- and PPE to different locations.
Kathy: And actually, for those of you listening to us, we are working on a video that is following the whole Pony Express. So, we’ll talk about that some today, but we do have a video that we’re creating for that. So, quickly, and I’ll go to Darren. What the overview of the three different places that are here in San Antonio, because I’m talking to people from all three. So, what are those three locations in San Antonio, and how do they represent what’s happening all over the state?
Darren: So, yes. In San Antonio we have the armory itself that’s handling PPE, also handling the COVID test kits that are going in and out. So that’s one of the missions—we support the Mobile Testing Teams. Then we have these RACs, which are the Regional Advisory Councils and the HPPs, the Hospital Preparedness Program. That warehouse provides PPE to nursing homes and to hospitals, facilities, doctor offices, dentist offices. So we’re supporting that mission. Then we have-
Kathy: Yay a train!
Darren: A train!
Kathy: Sorry guys. Okay.
Darren: Then we have the TDEM warehouse itself, that all the PPE, all the product that comes in to the state of Texas, goes into San Antonio to their warehouse and gets distributed out to ten different armories and to the sub-RACs and RACs around the state to support the mission of PPE and all the other supplies that are needed for this response.
Kathy: Okay. But what I want to concentrate on having with three of you together—so again just to remind, there is a TEEX person, somebody with the National Guard, and somebody with AgriLife—is how the state of Texas is pulling together. This is not just one agency responding to this. So, I’ll start with Bryan. How have you found that all of these agencies are working together?
Bryan: It’s great. The synergism that’s brought together within these different agencies, where you actually have TEEX that has probably a lot of experience in Incident Command Structures, and within our region, kind of the lead agency where we support that operation, be it from the National Guard side or from AgriLife Extension. And so, everybody has something that to come to the table, and be it maybe in transportation logistics side or also in the planning. Each agency kind of has those boots on the ground. And with AgriLife being in every single county in the state, we know maybe those county judges, commissioners there from that standpoint, and then we also have those contacts where we have somebody within our agency that’s embedded within each one of those counties. And that’s what we bring in as the AgriLife Extension into the operation. And then TEEX and then National Guard with the- literally the man force that really helps keep everything going.
Kathy: Right. So, Freitag, what do you say about that?
David: So, I agree with Bryan a lot. I know, coming in to this mission, I’ve done plenty of emergency responses for hurricanes and working with a bunch of civilian entities and it hadn’t always gone well. And entities that I have respect for, and you get together and there’s just a lot of arguing and bickering and less eyes on the mission. And coming in here, that’s what I expected. I expected a lot of push-back and a lot of inter-agency fighting, and what I found is really a family working together. And it’s just been this amazing experience to bring my National Guard soldiers that I have underneath me and to see how other organizations run and how we can work as one to accomplish the mission of basically Texans coming together to help other Texans—and done it smoothly I have to say. Hiccups in the road with planning, but it’s gone so smooth—the rank structure we’ve kind of put out, who’s in charge of what, working together to cover down. And like Mr. Davis said, one thing we provide as the National Guard is- I won’t use the word woman or manpower, but we have soldier power.
Kathy: There you go!
David: We’ve got thousands and thousands of soldiers across this great state that volunteered to come in and whatever needs to get done. No job’s too dirty, no job’s too small or miniscule. We come together and we put in that soldier power and we make it happen.
Kathy: Darren, what do you think along with that same thing about the partnership? The working together? How do you actually work with Frietag all these times?
Darren: Well it is. We came together initially and just kind of laid out all of our roles—and “this is what I have to bring to the table, what do you have to offer?” And “how can we work together?”—that was the biggest thing that we did in the very very beginning. Was, nobody was here to really be in charge, I guess you could say, it was more that partnership—how are we going to work together from the very very onset. So I think setting that dynamic up in the very beginning helped us grow. Which, we’ve created these friendships now and respect from each other’s organizations. We are all there to help each other out at any given time. Sergeant Freitag one time I was picking up a box. And he said, “You don’t need to be picking up that box, you got decisions to make.” I said “No no, I don’t expect you to pick up a box if I don’t pick up a box.” And so, you know, we’re not afraid to get in there and get our hands dirty at any point in time—nobody is. So I think that that’s brought us all together to form that one dynamic team that’s worth its weight in gold for us. And we joke, we kid with each other. It’s just like that other family that we’ve been together with since April, the beginning of April. And now we’re spending more time together. So this is that second or third family that we now have adopted. Which is a good thing.
Kathy: Well and Bryan, you’re out more, isn’t that true? What do you think—is the community, the state as a whole seeing this? Seeing this response?
Bryan: As I cross the state and everything, and we have other agents that are across the state—it’s kind of that little hidden behind the scenes. And we want what’s best for our communities; we want what’s best for our families. At night, whenever we look at the news, I get a little smile. I get a better feeling for myself because I know that testing team out there that’s doing that testing at maybe a community center or a show barn or at some other facility, that it was us here at this armory or down at the STRAC that supported that testing, or at the TDEM warehouse. This morning I did a run, a STAR request and it went to Memphis, TX, and I worked with two other of our disaster assessment agents to get that STAR request up there. That for those people in that community up in the panhandle, they don’t need to know that it took seven hours and three people to get it there, but they had a need, and we got it there quickly with very little disclosure. And that’s, to me, what we’re about, especially coming out of the TDEM warehouse but even at the STRAC. We see a lot of people come through there, a lot of doctors offices and nurses offices, but I don’t think they see the true volume: the millions of face shields, the millions of masks, be it surgical or N-95s, the gloves. And so, you get that better feeling, but no, I truly believe that a lot of people don’t see just what the state of Texas and the governor has put into place here, but it does make me feel good as a person to see and know what’s going on. And I think we all feel that way, don’t you guys?
Darren: Absolutely, absolutely. And I’d like to add to that too, is also the tracking mechanisms and things that are in place to track the amount of PPE that’s been going out. Because, again, there is a dollar amount that goes to this, so we’re bound to ensure that we take care of this PPE and get it to where it needs to go and get it there in a timely fashion as well as account for it here in these armories and at the STRAC—that it is going to the right people. So, the inventory controls is a big part of that too—making sure that we have that amount of PPE to deliver to the folks.
Kathy: Well, and I like the point that you brought up Bryan in that we don’t know what’s going on, and a lot of the times that means that the system’s working well. So finally, a last question for each of you is—what’s most important now and moving forward? What do you see are the most important things for us all to keep in mind and then maybe even specifically on this mission?
Darren: Well, for me I guess-
Kathy: Darren’s making a face like, don’t make me guess, don’t make me guess.
Darren: There’s a lot of things. It just boils down to, again, we just need to stay vigilant on following what the CDC guidelines and the governor’s office that are coming down to protect ourselves, making sure that we take care of ourselves, take care of our neighbors, take care of our families, taking the precautions. So that, again, we can now take what we’ve learned from this and keep it from reoccurring, re-happening, or happening again. Because if we’ve got it on the downward trend, going on right now. You know, we saw an uptick not too- just a month ago, and now we’re going downwards so that’s where we want to stay, and it’s not over. It’s not gonna be over for some time, but at least if we can keep it down to a more manageable process and people heeding the precautions, I think it we’ll be better in the long term to serve. And what that will do it will- not that we don’t- we want to do this mission, we want to take care of those Texans, like Bryan said, we want to take care of our fellow Texans. But at the same time, we also want to get Texas open back up to some sense of normalcy. And as long as we’re here doing this mission in this armory, we’re really not at that normal level that we should be at right now. So, that’s kind of where I see it is—follow the precautions so that we can get back to Texas.
Kathy: So that we can all go home. Sergeant Freitag?
David: I fully agree with Darren. The biggest thing going forward right now is, on the military side, I can say is just follow what our senior advisors and seniors leaders put out as far as our precautions because it’s been working, and they’re not going to put it out and steer us wrong if it isn’t working. And so, you know, mask up, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, keep your social distancing, you know, take care of yourself, because that will take care of you family, which will take care of, like Darren said, your neighbor and then your neighborhood and your whole community. And we can get Texas moving forward in a timely manner without relapses. And, you know, to echo what he says going forward if we do that, then I think behind the scenes, we don’t get to see our families much. You know, we’re working, we’re grinding the midnight oil sometimes on the road at two in the morning, staying at a hotel, doing what we need to do. And if we can get this wrapped up and we can follow those guidelines, then we can also get home and enjoy our families and spend time with our loved ones safe, healthy, and be happy.
Bryan: Sergeant, I think you bring up a great point. This has been a long mission, and early on we were pushing a lot of that PPE out—face shields, masks, and everything—and still are. And it’s- for me and my division, we’ve gone from PPE to test kits, be it clean test kits getting out to teams, or receiving those test kits that have been- getting them back to the labs from that. And that’s kind of changed a little bit there to medical supplies as the hospitals were in need, and we had that little bit of a spike. We started handing out ventilators, respirators, defibrillators, and providing that. And so the next thing that we’d like to do is probably see a little bit less runs, that more normalcy and make sure that people hear about us. But it’s very much behind the scenes, and the sooner that we get back to that normalcy, I think with any event, and with me being deployed on enough of these disasters and deployments, and as quick as we can get back to normalcy, we can enjoy our families and the state of Texas like it always is, is a great state of getting back to that.
Kathy: yeah. Well I thank all three of you for taking your time out of, as I know, you’re very busy days, although hey Bryan got you off the road for ten, fifteen minutes for talking
Kathy: he literally comes in here, grabs something and drives to the other side of the state. And then they send him from that side of the state to the other side of the state. So thank you all three of you, I appreciate it. And hopefully- well, no. I was gonna say hopefully we’ll do a follow-up on this; hopefully we won’t—hopefully there will be no need for a follow-up conversation on this. But I thank you all.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to the Disaster Management Podcast series, brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. Visit www.teex.org for information about training near you.