Residents were left without critical coverage in one Texas city as already-strained emergency services scrambled to help areas impacted by a series of tornadoes over the weekend.
Four confirmed tornadoes hit damaged hundreds of homes and buildings in San Antonio over the weekend, knocking down trees and leading to power outages and blocked roads around town. No serious injuries or deaths have yet been reported, but the level of damage to infrastructure has led Mayor Ivy Taylor to declare a state of disaster, which she says is the first step in securing state and federal resources for cleanup and repair efforts.
While none of them exceed EF-1 level, four tornadoes in a single night is no small matter – the amount of damage required the full attention of emergency services staff. A source within the San Antonio Fire Department told Texas Scorecard that every person from technical rescue was called in to help with building collapses and searches as a result of the damage.
It’s no help either that the city’s emergency services are already stretched pretty thin, especially when compared to other municipalities. While San Antonio has 34 full-time EMS responders with vehicles citywide, their closest neighbor, Austin, has 45 – one for each fire station – even though Austin has only 60% of the population San Antonio does.
Stretching resources that thin can lead to some concerning response times – over an hour in many cases – and according to sources in the field, consistently results in less than five units being available citywide, and often none at all. Considering traffic and urban sprawl, these factors can stack on minutes when seconds count.
This past weekend, 28 calls went unanswered on Saturday from the damage wrought by the tornadoes, a source told Texas Scorecard. Of course, that level of damage would have stretched city resources pretty thin even with appropriate staffing levels – but still serves as a reminder of the importance of ensuring that core services are kept adequate.
It is a flat-out dangerous tendency of municipal bureaucrats to favor pet projects and partisan spending efforts instead of core services and necessary infrastructure. The recent disaster with California’s Oroville Dam serves as a much starker testament that municipal misappropriations can have potentially devastating results.
Unfortunately, many bureaucrats eschew fixing the roof while the sun is still shining, opting to spend money on frivolous projects – such as $200,000 toilet stalls – instead of responsible items like providing much needed services to the residents who ostensibly pay for them. Ironically, the city just issued $52 million in certificates of obligation bonds – a voter-surpassing debt mechanism supposed to be reserved for emergencies – to purchase a tower to house city staffers.
“We have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on streetcars, art projects, fancy toilets, and critter bridges but none of that money is used to put ambulances on the street,” said Chris Steele, President of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association. “We are seriously understaffed and underfunded yet the firefighters keep putting on their gear and paramedics run 24 hours without break. That is their dedication to their citizens, I simply wish the city government had similar priorities.”