The Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (HCOHSEM) has recently been working to develop content suitable for publication in academic and emergency management related journals. The first article was recently published in the Domestic Preparedness Journal.
Benefits of Industrial Liaisons – A Harris County Example
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
By: Jamie Hannan, MAT, MPP, Innovation Research Analyst, HCOHSEM
“Make friends before you need them” summarizes the guiding principles behind the Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management’s (HCOHSEM) Industrial Liaison Program, where private industry and local government work together to keep the residents of Harris County, Texas, safe. This program and its resulting relationships have proven invaluable through industrial and devastating natural disasters, including Hurricane Ike (2008), Hurricane Harvey (2017), and the February 2021 Winter Storm.
For some context, Harris County, Texas, is the third largest county in the United States by population, with over 4.7 million residents. This is larger than the population of 26 states and covers an area of 1,777 square miles, larger than Rhode Island. Harris County is home to 34 cities, including Houston, the largest U.S. port for international exports and one of the world’s largest petrochemical and industrial complexes. These factors make it important for officials at various levels of government, industry partners, and community stakeholders to work together to keep everyone safe.
Reason for Having an Industrial Liaison
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the frequency of industrial incidents such as explosions, flaring, and chemical releases affecting communities near petrochemical plants in Harris County revealed gaps in communication between the chemical industry, local governments, elected officials, and the communities surrounding the plants due to the lack of a cohesive communications plan. At the time, notifications of incidents came through calls to 911 or faxes as was standard at the time. That notification process led to delays in communication to jurisdictions outside of the original 911 service area. In addition, the non-standardized forms took time for the receivers to realize where something was occurring and how it could impact the community. The nature of chemical releases and impacts by weather made it critical that stakeholders in surrounding communities outside of the initial area knew about potential impacts. Industry leaders realized that maintaining the status quo was not an option, so they came together to find a solution to streamline communications and information sharing.
The East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA), which includes over 130 manufacturing companies in Harris County and the surrounding area, created a task force in 2003 to address the concerns. EHCMA worked with its members, community stakeholders, and local government to determine the best way to fill the identified communication gaps. Ultimately, the task force decided a position should be created within the county government to work closely with industry. The Harris County Commissioners’ Court created the industrial liaison position in 2004 as part of the HCOHSEM with a mandate to build better relationships with local industry and expand communications networks during incidents.
The responsibilities of the industrial liaison include joining Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and making the county government aware of issues and concerns these groups discuss. Additional responsibilities include representing the county at the regional, state, and federal levels when necessary and coordinating response and planning on a regional basis.
Sent by Victoria Clifton, EHCMA, on behalf of:
Asst. Deputy Coordinator
Public Information Officer
Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management
6922 Katy Road | Houston, Texas 77024
Phone: 713-426-9585 | 713-881-3100