Winter Storm 2023 After-action Report

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Atha Phillips
Posts: 14
Joined: Tue Nov 09, 2021 9:22 am

Winter Storm 2023 After-action Report

Post by Atha Phillips »

On behalf of Council Member Pool


Since this morning’s work session was cut short, I wanted to finish my thoughts and post the questions that I have for the City Manager and staff and identify issues we need to see addressed in the After-Action Report.

I would like to propose that we use this thread to pose our questions to the City Manager and staff for that upcoming report.

While After Action Reports provide the most thorough and robust examination of events and are multi-jurisdictional and cross-departmental, we will have an opportunity at next week’s Audit & Finance Committee meeting on February 15 to review the City’s progress on the Disaster Preparedness Audit Report from 2021, which will give us more information about the gaps in the City’s response to this event.

I want to acknowledge how difficult this has been for everyone in our city. I know how hard it is once again to be struggling through another natural disaster. We strive to be resilient and sometimes, especially now, it can seem so hard just to get through the day.

In the face of such challenges, I thank city staff, particularly those on the front lines – these folks are also carrying the burdens of this crisis personally, emotionally, and physically. City staff feel the responsibility deeply. Their departments include Austin Energy, Austin Water, Emergency Operations team members, Austin Resource Recovery, Public Health, APD, Public Works, Parks, as well as staff from our mutual aid partners, all of whom have been working 24/7 to get us back to normal.

I have a few individual thanks to mention, and it's just a sample of the kind of good work that is going on out there. I want to thank Scott Banaski from Austin Energy who did an amazing job with St David’s Health Care when three hospitals lost power. Scott worked with St. David’s leadership team to get the generators online.

I want to thank Capital Metro who worked with a women and children's shelter to provide warming buses as well as Chief Chacon and the officers who provided security for these families who have already been through too much.

As you've heard from all of us – and it bears repeating – we appreciate you.

I want to focus now on the After-Action Report process and an additional review item I would like to see in it. I will send these questions to staff, and I will post their responses here once I receive them.

1. What is the process and timing for the After-Action Report?
2. What is included in that After-Action Report?

The After-Action Report from 2021’s Winter Storm Uri is less than two years old. The report includes 132 recommendations with specific actions for Leadership and Communication were listed as items that were to be addressed in the short term, meaning 6-8 months.

1. What recommendations have been implemented and what items are outstanding?

On the subject of emergency coordination, I need to understand what the process is for activating the EOC for an emergency.

1. Who decides when there is an emergency?
2. Who decides what departments are involved?
3. Who coordinates communication at the EOC?
4. Who is responsible for activating and sending texts to residents?
5. AE has a separate command center, does this confuse the chain of command with the EOC and HSEM?
6. Should a department dealing with an emergency be expected to also provide critical information to the public?
7. How has the Resiliency Office responded to this situation?

I’d like to ensure that all of our concerns are addressed in the After-Action Report.

I’m hoping that these along with questions from other offices will help us to understand and create a response in the future that is timely and beneficial to the residents of Austin.


Senior Policy Advisor
Office of Council Member Leslie Pool, District 7
Alison Alter
Posts: 218
Joined: Fri Jan 13, 2017 3:52 pm

Re: Winter Storm 2023 After-action Report

Post by Alison Alter »

Dear Colleagues,

I also would like to express my appreciation for our Austin Energy + mutual aid frontline crews and City of Austin’s essential and public safety staff. The crews especially performed dangerous, life-threatening, and time intensive work. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

The City’s after-action reports will play a critical role in our policy and budgetary considerations as we work to fortify our community from future crises. In anticipation of Tuesday’s Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee (9 AM), I would like to share some of my thoughts on what I would like to see covered at the briefing and addressed in the more detailed after-action reports to follow:

COMMUNICATIONS: 1) What did Austin Energy learn about the extent of the damage over the course of the event? How, why and when did those assessments change over time? How were decisions made about communicating these assessments and by whom? For instance, how and when did Austin Energy learn the extent of the damage would require days (rather than 12-24 hours) to address? Who ultimately decided not to hold a press conference on Wednesday (Feb. 1) and why not? At what point did customers first receive direct text messages about outages? When and how was Warn Central Texas used to alert people to the weather and to outages?

2) What is Austin Energy’s standard operating procedure and approach to direct communications to customers, particularly SMS / text messaging in a time of crisis and limited access to power? What is the typical cadence for those messages during a crisis and has the standard operating procedure with regard to text updates, emails to AE customers, or Warn Central Texas changed since Winter Storm Uri?

3) As Council Member Fuentes asked at our briefing on Feb. 7, please describe the City’s language access and translation efforts that took place over the course of the event and whether and how these processes have improved since Winter Storm Uri and where there is still need for improvement.

4) What worked well and what did not work well in communicating timely information so our community could plan and make necessary decisions for themselves and their families?

5) What worked well and what did not work well in providing timely information to the City Council during the storm and after?

SYSTEMS AND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS: What capital improvements need to be made in such assets as the distribution system, SCADA (System Control and Data Acquisition), ADMS (Automated Distribution Management System), and Outage Map software to ensure more resilient power and faster restoration times?

The Austin Energy Outage Map appeared to be limited in its ability to grant people real-time, ground-truthed, accurate information, which led to increased frustration as this was the primary form of communication that households could use to check the status of their outage. Please explain the platform’s limitations in providing households accurate outage information. If this platform is so limited, why did we request households to use it? Are there other platforms that have better usability and engagement features for customers so they can receive real-time, accurate information?

The limitations of the AE outage map were discussed in detail during our Uri after action meetings. What changes were implemented since Uri and what investments were made? During the Feb. 2022 water boil, when AW’s outage reporting equivalent failed to perform effectively the department adapted and created an alternate reporting mechanism. Why was something similar not done for AE in Feb. 2023?

STORM TIMELINE: Provide a timeline of the ice storm itself, including the sequence of events, common mode failures, communications to the public and a detailed analysis of special factors that made Austin particularly susceptible to this storm, such as types of terrain, types of trees, total precipitation, long-lasting drought in prior months/years that made the trees weaker, and whether the December 2022 freeze also weakened our tree canopy.

MUTUAL AID + RESTORATION POLICIES: a timeline of AE’s crews’ repair and restoration approach and when mutual aid crews arrived.

STAFFING: We know our City departments are currently plagued by vacancies as are utilities across the country. From a staffing and capacity perspective, what role did the vacancies play in storm response? What are Austin Energy and the City Manager’s office doing to address vacancies in our energy utility?

The external review of Austin Water released in January highlighted the importance of full staffing to successfully navigate extreme weather events. From a staffing and organizational perspective, how is Austin Energy positioned to deal with crises that may become more frequent or more severe? To what degree did staffing levels impact other aspects of the city’s emergency response?

LEARNINGS FROM OTHER CENTRAL TEXAS UTILITIES: Benchmark our performance against other utilities in the region such as (Oncor, PEC, Bluebonnet) that may have suffered similar damage to their distribution systems. How did our performance and communication compare to theirs and what could we learn from their experiences and operations?

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Provide an analysis of possible solutions moving forward and their advantages / disadvantages, such as 1) continued (but perhaps expedited) vegetation management, 2) making power lines taller (e.g. above the tree canopy), 3) burying power lines everywhere or in certain areas, or 4) deploying distributed systems (such as natural gas or diesel generators, solar panels with batteries, and their various combinations etc.).

Long Canyon is a community that contains underground utilities; however, it has been communicated to us that their outages were precipitated by above ground utility infrastructure damage outside of their immediate neighborhood. For increased reliability purposes, has Austin Energy contemplated the idea of isolating communities with underground utilities from the larger network to the greatest extent feasible since the above ground lines are more prone to damage?

As we know, Austin is growing with new communities being constructed every day both in the urban core in developments like Planned Unit Developments and in the outer edges of the City and County. Is it a requirement that all new neighborhoods have underground utilities? If so, for how long has this been a requirement? When are there exceptions? If not, why not?

VEGETATION MANAGEMENT: How far along is Austin Energy’s 2019 vegetation plan? How did Austin Energy’s vegetation management plan contribute or not contribute to this outage’s magnitude and duration? Please provide a review and history of Austin Energy’s vegetation management over the last ~20 years including funding levels, in-house employees vs. contractors, and Austin Energy’s policies and practices when interacting with resistant homeowners. How many crews does Austin Energy have on-staff to address vegetation management and how much of this work is contracted out? Were both the in-house and contracted crew positions fully staffed? If not, how did staffing impact AE’s response time? How, if at all, does Austin Energy plan to alter their vegetation management policies and investments at this time?

PREVIOUS AFTER-ACTION REPORTS: Are there any energy or utility-related recommendations from previous after-action reports from the last 15 years that have not been implemented and, if so, what are they and are they still relevant today? Would AE be able to rotate outages if ERCOT limits power?

POWER LOSS AT CRITICAL FACILITIES: Provide details surrounding the conditions that resulted in loss of power at our water substations, fire / EMS stations, as well as information about any back-up generator failures at these facilities.

SHELTER: How well did our extreme weather shelter program serve our neighbors experiencing homelessness and people without power?

RESILIENCE HUBS: What is the status of our resilience hubs? Were any of the hubs activated as warming centers, cold weather shelters, charging centers, food distribution centers, etc.? What is the timeframe for the resilience hubs to be fully operational to assist in future crises?
MEDICAL REGISTRY AND SENIORS: What are the gaps in our medical registry system? If that system is insufficient to meet community needs, how might we complement it or strengthen it with additional resources or new programs? How well did we meet the needs of seniors living at home or in senior facilities? How did the community care line operated by EMS, our community health paramedics, and our paramedic practitioners assist in meeting the needs of vulnerable populations and minimizing the need to travel to seek medical assistance during the storm and its aftermath?

PERSONNEL: Compared to other public entities, why did it take longer for the City of Austin to send home non-essential employees when the crisis began? Have our teleworking policies been updated to accommodate weather crises? Will the City update its closure policies to be aligned with weather-related closures at local Independent School Districts? Council Member Tovo previously provided this direction and, as we face a child care crisis in our community, I believe it is worth revisiting this policy.

I also have the following questions as we recover from this crisis:

PERSONAL PREPAREDNESS GUIDANCE: How, if at all, does the City anticipate updating its personal preparedness guidance, specifically with regard to the purchase of generators and other machinery and tools that will help households endure very prolonged outages? Are there plans to update Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s guidance regarding personal preparedness to better encompass the specific conditions of this most recent crisis?

COMPENSATION: Has the City contemplated any forms of compensation for households, including compensation relating to food and groceries that needed to be discarded due to the prolonged power outage? How might federal or state disaster funding assist individuals or businesses that experienced significant losses on account of the storm and the power outage?

DEPLOYMENT OF RESOURCES: How exactly will the iStat responses inform the City’s deployment of recovery resources?

FUNDING: With regard to the declaration of disaster and recovery funds, what funds from the State or Federal government do we anticipate to assist us with recovery and do we yet have a sense of what these funds can be spent on? What expenditures do we anticipate to be reimbursed for at this time? Understanding that costs are still being incurred, have we yet estimated the cost of the storm and storm response to the City of Austin as an organization? What is our current estimate of the property damage the City of Austin has sustained? Has our interlocal with Travis County regarding disaster response been executed yet?

Thank you for your consideration. I remain committed to the work we have ahead of us.

Alison Alter
Council Member, District 10
Mackenzie Kelly
Posts: 75
Joined: Tue Jan 12, 2021 2:56 pm

Re: Winter Storm 2023 After-action Report

Post by Mackenzie Kelly »


Thank you, Council Member Pool, and Council Member A. Alter, for sharing your thoughts and questions regarding the upcoming After-Action Report on Austin's response to the February Winter Storm and power outages.

I agree that it is important to address these issues and gather information to ensure that we are better prepared for similar situations in the future.

I would like to suggest that we also seek input from the community through town hall sessions or other public forums. Hearing from residents and businesses who were affected by the storm and outages could provide valuable insight and help us better understand their needs and concerns.

Regarding the questions you've raised, I believe they are all critical in understanding the city's response to the crisis. Additionally, I appreciate your focus on understanding the implementation of the recommendations from the 2021 Winter Storm Uri After-Action Report.

As you've highlighted, coordination and communication were identified as critical areas to be addressed in the short term, and I agree that we need to assess what progress has been made in those areas. It's also important to understand the process for activating the EOC and how different departments are involved in emergency coordination.

I look forward to hearing the responses to these questions and working together to create a comprehensive and effective response plan for future emergencies.

The following are questions I'd like to see answered:

• What was the extent of the damage to Austin Energy's infrastructure during the February Winter Storm?
• What were some of the biggest challenges Austin Energy faced during the power outages?
• How did Austin Energy communicate with customers during the power outages?
• Did Austin Energy have an adequate plan in place for responding to the Winter Storm?
• What improvements does Austin Energy plan to make to its response plan based on the February Winter Storm?
• How did Austin Energy coordinate with other utility companies and emergency responders during the Winter Storm?
• How did Austin Energy prioritize which areas to restore power to first during the outages?
• Were there any instances where Austin Energy was unable to restore power to certain areas? If so, why?
• How did Austin Energy ensure the safety of its workers during the Winter Storm?
• What lessons did Austin Energy learn from the Winter Storm that can be applied to future severe weather events?
• Were there any areas or neighborhoods that experienced longer power outages than others? If so, why?
• Did Austin Energy have enough staff and resources available to respond to the Winter Storm?
• How did Austin Energy handle requests for assistance from customers during the outages?
• Were there any instances where Austin Energy was unable to respond to a request for assistance? If so, why?
• How did Austin Energy work with local government officials during the Winter Storm?
• What kind of preparations did Austin Energy make leading up to the Winter Storm?
• What was the estimated cost of the damage caused by the Winter Storm to Austin Energy's infrastructure?
• What role did renewable energy sources play in Austin Energy's response to the Winter Storm?
• How did Austin Energy ensure the equitable distribution of resources during the power outages?
• What step(s) is Austin Energy taking to ensure that its infrastructure is more resilient to future severe weather events?

Again, thank you all for your leadership and dedication to our community following this challenging time.


Council Member, District 6