While the vast majority of public-safety LMR and LTE sites in Harris County, Texas, have remained operational since the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, the unprecedented flooding from the event could result in multiple new policy and resource decisions in the future, according to county officials.

For Harris County, Harvey’s aftermath marks the third consecutive year with a significant flooding event, with each one being progressively worse, according to Shing Lin, director of public-safety technology services for Harris County central technology services (CTS). But the flooding challenges associated with Harvey are unprecedented, he said.

“We flood down here—it’s kind of our thing—but it’s hard to imagine [the flooding in Harvey’s aftermath],” Lin said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “When they predicted 50 inches of rain, most of us were like, ‘How is that even physically possible to have that much rain?’”

Harris County operates two public-safety communications networks: a 40-site LTE network and a 700/800 MHz P25 Phase 2 system with about 60 sites that provides coverage to 20 counties and includes a core-to-core link to the city of Houston’s 57-site P25 network, Lin said.

This link between the P25 systems proved to be helpful to Harvey recovery operations, particularly as personnel were reassigned from field rescue efforts—using the county’s LMR communications—to providing security support at NRG Park, the home field of the Houston Astros that was transformed into a shelter, according to Jim McMillan, senior manager of public-safety communications services.

“We were able to send them to the city’s interop [interoperability] groups without having to do anything to the radio—we didn’t have to reprogram it, and we didn’t have to touch it,” McMillan said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “You just go to the talk group, and the radio re-registers onto the city’s layer, and they start communicating.

 “I really liked the fact that we didn’t have to touch people’s radios, for the most part. We had an agency that changed roles mid-operation—maybe they were assisting search and rescue, and then they went over to NRG Park to help have security for the facility, which was sort of being handled by the city—they were able to switch over to a city-layer talk group without having to do anything except change the channel on the radio.”

Lin and McMillan said operations were lost at two of the P25 sites, although one of the outage sites was in a location where other sites could provide overlapping coverage, so communications—albeit at lower capacity—was maintained. The other outage lasted less than two hours, McMillan said.

“One site went down and did cause a degradation in coverage until we could get it back up,” he said. “I think it was down for maybe an hour or an hour-and-a-half, until we could get a guy over there.”

In the other outage situation, a technician was able to resolve the problem after a resident provided transportation to the site on a Jet Ski, McMillan said.

“We just needed to get a tech over to take the UPS [uninterruptible power supply] out of the loop to get the site back on the air,” McMillan said. “So, we lost the UPS at a site but the equipment itself was good, so we just needed to get that UPS bypassed. He was able to commandeer a Jet Ski and get up to a gate, get inside the shelter, reset that and get out.”