When Tropical Storm Imelda blew through the Greater Houston Area on Sept. 20, 2019, the University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police) stood ready to assist if an emergency were to arise for UT buildings in the Texas Medical Center and across the Houston area.
Unlike Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the medical center and our facilities in the region saw little damage as a result of the Imelda. When called upon to assist with evacuations in areas that experienced record amounts of flooding in neighborhoods and on freeways and roadways, UT Police was ready to assist.
Imelda marked the first time both the UT Police High Water Evacuation Vehicle and the Water Rescue Team would be sent into the field with a real-life mission. In Harris County alone, a reported 422 people required high-water rescue with some areas experiencing 43 inches of rain.
To help keep up with the amount of emergency calls coming into the Houston Emergency Center, UT Police assistance was requested by Capt. Beau Moreno of the Houston Fire Department’s Marine Division. Moreno helps to coordinate efforts between the Houston Fire Department (HFD), Houston Police Department, the City of Houston and other external agencies during flood events and other widespread emergencies. UT Police is the first fully equipped external agency to join the roster of HFD teams able to contribute to rescue efforts.
The UT Police high water vehicle was driven by Public Safety Officer Rolando Torres who has more than .
“There were people stranded and cars floating,” said Torres of the group’s rescue efforts. “The biggest problem we ran into was not knowing how deep the water was.”
Police Officer Carlos Guzman, a member of the department’s Water Rescue Team, also recalled some of the day’s chaos.
“As soon as we arrived to the city’s command center we were given call slips with the addresses of people on the Northside who were stranded and had requested help,” said Guzman. “There were a lot of residents caught off guard by the rising water that day.”
The four-member team was dispatched in the early afternoon with their deployment lasting until roughly midnight. In addition to Guzman and Torres, Sgt. Brodie Riner and Asset Technician Jonathan Jackson were also part of the crew.
Riner called the event a “learning experience” for the team since the department recently acquired its High Water Vehicles following Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Imelda rescues gave the group experience that they can now use to better prepare for an event like this in the future, he said.
“We were glad that we could help the city’s efforts,” said Riner. “The people we helped were certainly happy that we were there as well.”