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Audit shows Austin was unprepared for February’s winter storms

The audit says the City's lack of preparedness "led to a less effective and disorganized response."

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin city auditor says the City was unprepared for February 2021's winter storms.

The Auditor's Office released a new 38-page report on Wednesday, including 10 recommendations for future preparedness.

The audit says the City did not have enough staff and supplies to respond to a severe winter storm. It also says recommendations that were made in the past were not followed and that the City's lack of preparedness "led to a less effective and disorganized response."

“While City staff who responded worked diligently to respond to the disaster, these issues placed tremendous strain on the staff who were available to address the many challenges the City faced as the storm intensified and infrastructure failed,” a summary of the audit said.

"I think the resources is another challenge. So what we had on hand to respond, even if we could have gotten it to people, was a challenge," said Corrie Stokes, the city Aauditor. "Across the board, the city faced many challenges that we hadn't really planned out how we would handle."

The audit calls out the City’s lack of effective communication with Austin residents in the days leading up to and during the winter storms, saying many residents were left without critical information that may have helped them stay safe.

"There are tons of things related to communication that were disturbing, I guess, for lack of a better word. But I do think that the language access and our lack of communication in other languages and the timeliness of that communication ... the Spanish communication went out a lot later than the English communication," said Stokes. "Sometimes it had links to materials that were only in English. And so I think that's a real problem and something that I think we can fix, and we can fix it pretty quickly."

By not focusing on equity in the City’s disaster planning and preparedness, the response did not effectively serve all residents, including people experiencing homelessness, seniors and other vulnerable populations, the audit says.

The recommendations included in the audit relate to revising disaster plans, increasing staff and emergency supplies on hand, as well as enhancing communication with the public. City Management has agreed with these recommendations. View all 10 starting on page 26 of the audit.

"We have received the Auditor’s report, which supports the findings of our own After-Action reports published last week," a City spokesperson said. "As we said just a few days ago, the City of Austin, like the state of Texas, was unprepared for a historic natural disaster layered on top of an international public health crisis. But we came together as a community to help each other. With every unprecedented event like this, there are lessons to be learned about our preparation, planning and response. We intend to learn those lessons and make improvements, and many of those improvements are already underway."

At least 210 Texans died in the storm, including 36 in the Austin area. Numerous Austin residents experienced periods without electricity for multiple days. Pipes across the city froze or burst, leaving residents without water or struggling with flooding in their homes. Many Austinites had to leave their homes, travel in unsafe conditions and shelter in City-run warming centers and shelters or with friends and family.

Read the full audit report.

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