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House Committee: How Prepared is Texas?

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By: 
General Counsel/Director of Government Affairs

On Thursday, April 28, 2016, the House Committee on State Affairs held an interim hearing to study if the state is adequately prepared for economic, natural, or man-made disasters. Under the direction of Chairman Byron Cook, the committee heard testimony from various relevant agencies.

Keith Phillips of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas testified that, while heavily slowed due to low oil and gas prices, the Texas economy has diversified since the 1980s. Despite being down from a high of more than 3 percent annual growth, Texas’ employment grew by 1.3 percent last year—better than any other energy-producing state. In the 1980s, Houston was the Texas metropolitan area most affected by volatility in oil and gas prices; however, even Houston had positive job growth last year, largely due to its robust healthcare sector.

With regard to natural and man-made disasters, the committee heard testimony from the Chief of DPS’ Division of Emergency Management, Nim Kidd, who explained that federal declarations of disaster are determined by a state’s population. Texas must sustain $35.4 million in uninsured loss to qualify for a disaster declaration—a much higher threshold than neighboring states.

The committee also examined cybersecurity issues involving both the state and the electric grid. Chairman Cook, a businessman with experience in the videogaming industry, expressed concern that the state does not have a dedicated initiative for cybersecurity. Citing federal officials, Stephen Vollbrecht, Executive Director of the Texas State Office on Risk Management, testified that cybersecurity was a greater threat than terrorism to the national government.

With regard to the electric grid, both the Public Utility Commission (PUC) and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) overviewed the steps that industry and grid operators take to prepare for outages. Bill Magness, CEO of ERCOT, explained the drills ERCOT practices to implement the plan to restart the electric grid in case of a blackout. PUC Executive Director Brian Lloyd explained the ever-evolving technologies that industry utilizes to protect the grid, and stressed that industry’s biggest challenges controlling power outages are weather and squirrels.