During the deadly winter storm last February, Capital Metro workers sheltered trembling Austinites and drove dialysis patients along dangerous routes to life-saving treatment.
But the agency had unrealistic expectations of how long it could operate in worsening conditions, frustrating passengers and leaving buses abandoned on frozen streets.
These are some of the details of an independent analysis of CapMetro’s performance that was produced in August but has not been made public.
Keeping the report a secret “was a misstep,” said Ann Kitchen, a board member for Capital Metro who also represents District 5 of Austin City Council. “I don’t think it was deliberate, but I think it was not the best practice.
The agency said it did not release the after action report to the public because the analysis was originally intended to inform internal operations and may contain sensitive security information. However, CapMetro acknowledged that an internal review found that there was no sensitive information in the report.
“This is something we weren’t philosophically opposed to making public,” said CapMetro deputy general manager Dottie Watkins. “We just hadn’t thought of that in advance.”
The After Action Report of IEM, a North Carolina-based emergency management consultancy, depicts an agency that has taken an “All Stakeholder Position on Bridge” to provide service under conditions unprecedented for CapMetro .
But because the storm was so severe and lasted for so long, the agency struggled to keep operating. The pipes began to burst in the operations centers. When the parking lots froze and the power was cut, operations were halted.
“The service restoration times communicated to the public were too optimistic for the weather conditions,” the report said in one of the agency’s many reviews. “To maintain trust and establish clear expectations with the public, Capital Metro should have been more careful in communicating restore timelines.”
The report found that employees camping at CapMetro’s facilities during the storm did not have enough supplies, including cots, sleeping bags, food and water.
“Many interview participants noted that their departments had cots and ready-to-eat (MRE) meals,” IEM wrote, “but these items were not accessible or were no longer available for use in the incident. “
But, overall, IEM said Capital Metro has launched a strong and centralized emergency operation to coordinate response activities. The agency took people to warming centers, transported patients to critical medical appointments, distributed cases of water and regularly checked with employees to make sure they had essential services.
“Capital Metro employees who were able to attend in line with their duties provided exemplary support to the agency and the community,” according to the report.
In one vivid example, the team behind PickUp – CapMetro’s on-demand transportation service – immediately realized the impact of power outages on some customers and began to regularly contact dialysis centers to see if they were. open.
“Overall, I think the public can be very proud of the role CapMetro has played in responding to and trying to alleviate the suffering in our community,” said CapMetro Chairman of the Board, Wade Cooper.
“There is always room for improvement,” Kitchen said. “The recommendations made will make CapMetro stronger and better able to support the community during an emergency and disaster.”
CapMetro says it has already started implementing some of the report’s recommendations. The agency is strengthening its decision-making process on when to suspend the service. It also means buying snow equipment such as chains to put on the tires. Some recently purchased maintenance trucks can be fitted with a snow plow if required.
“We were quite proud of our ability to [respond to emergencies] during winter storms, “Watkins said.” Hopefully if this hits us again, we can do some more. “