High Water Evacuation Vehicles At The Ready

June 30, 2020

The 2018 hurricane season brought new opportunities to safeguard both patients and employees in the event of an epic storm. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) added two military surplus high-water vehicles to its fleet in response to Harvey. Read the full article in the TMC Pulse magazine.

Houstonians know that preparing for inclement weather is a must.

UT Police has long been an integral part of our institution's emergency preparedness, enhancing and expanding its plans and response procedures according to known and unknown risks. In response to the enhanced incidents of severe flooding that have affected the city, the department has augmented its readiness by acquiring two High Water Evacuation Vehicles (HWEVs), surplus behemoths from the military.

They each weigh 23,500, stand over 10 feet tall, are 31 feet long and over 8 feet wide. Acquired in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey's destruction, the vehicles first served their purpose in response to Tropical Storm Imelda in September 2019.

During Imelda and subsequent rain events, they have been on the ready as have been the Water Strike Team members that would operate them.

"During Harvey, we had to rely on a high-water vehicle from a partner agency and that allowed us to transport blood products, medicine and physicians into the hospital so that life-saving procedures and surgeries could continue," said Sgt. Scott Barnwell. "We also were able to bring in key leadership and support staff that were integral to managing the crisis, and we transported food from one building to another."

With the acquisition of the vehicles, the department no longer has to rely on an external agency for critical needs transportation. Robust training on driving the vehicles and fast-moving water rescues also is part of the department's readiness.

The UT Police Water Strike Team includes Sgt. Scott Barnwell and Sgt. Jason Kingston who are both certified as Surface Water Rescue Technicians and Swift Water Rescue Technician instructors. Sgt. Alec Henry, Sgt. Brodie Riner, Officer Carlos Guzman, Public Safety Supervisor Jason Lipe, and Public Safety Officer David Alan Fox received moving water rescue techniques training by the Houston Fire Department (HFD). Designated drivers also obtained their commercial drivers license to operate the vehicle.

Like HFD's own high-water vehicles, the UT Police HWEVs are equipped with lift-gates (to make loading and unloading both non-ambulatory passengers and critical cargo), bench seats with storage compartments, personal flotation devices, pike poles, first aid kits, wet suits and lighting.

"We don't wish anyone to have to need rescue from a high water situation," Barnwell said. "But when waters rise or our institutions need life-sustaining supplies, we will be there to do all we can."

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