Jessica Reyna, left, with the Lower Rio Grande Development Council 9-1-1 system, speaks with residents about verifying their physical addresses with the 9-1-1 system as part of their disaster preparations. Photo by Dina Arévalo |

Even though hurricane season doesn’t officially begin until Saturday, forecasters have already seen the first named storm system form — albeit briefly — over the Atlantic Ocean. As the remnants of Subtropical Storm Andrea dissipated last Wednesday, Hidalgo County leaders gathered in Weslaco to educate residents on disaster preparedness.

“This is a direct result of the floods of June 2018,” Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes said at the top of an informational fair dubbed “Dare to Prepare” held at the newly renovated Precinct 1 Administration Building.

The event was just the first of several Dare to Prepare fairs held across the county. Fuentes added that Weslaco’s event was also the first to be hosted at the Precinct 1 offices since the Great June Flood of 2018 displaced county workers from the complex for more than eight months.

For Fuentes, last summer’s flooding served as a stark reminder of the importance of early preparedness. “When the storm shows up, it’s too late to prepare,” he said shortly after the fair.

“We want people to make sure that they’re active in their preparation and that whenever a rain event occurs that they don’t take it for granted, and that they’re prepared for a worst case scenario.”

As over two dozen residents listened, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricardo Saldaña reminded them that not all severe summertime weather is the result of tropical cyclones.

“It’s no longer just hurricanes,” Saldaña said in Spanish.

He urged residents to work in conjunction with city and county leaders on disaster preparation efforts before introducing a litany of representatives from such offices as Health and Human Services, code enforcement, the drainage district, local fire and police departments, and more.

“You yourselves can help us, and you can help yourselves,” Saldana said.

Officials enlisted the public’s help in keeping drainage ditches clear, getting rid of standing water that breeds mosquitoes, adhering to code enforcement ordinances regarding weedy lots, and obeying law enforcement in the event of road closures during flood events.

But, they also urged residents to take advantage now of public services as part of their disaster preparation plans, including registering with the county’s 2-1-1 system and updating their physical address with the 9-1-1 system.

A statewide program, 2-1-1 aims to connect residents with local resources. In the Valley, registering with 2-1-1 helps officials know who may need evacuation assistance in the event of severe weather.

Jessica Reyna, with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council 9-1-1 system, stressed the importance of residents verifying their physical address with the system, saying it’s vital for FEMA disaster relief eligibility.

Residents also received myriad practical preparation tips from Mario Betancourt, deputy emergency management coordinator.

Betancourt explained how to create emergency kits and family evacuation plans. He also reminded residents to keep important documents safe in water-tight containers, and to include pets in any disaster plans.

“Disasters happen everywhere, but all we can do as individuals is be prepared as much as possible if and when that happens,” Betancourt said after the fair.

He reiterated a maxim he shared during his presentation about disasters not discriminating between victims.

“Don’t believe that it can’t happen to you,” he said.