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Months of meticulous calculations put hurricane cost in the millions

Calculating the cost of a huge hurricane is no small task. For TDCJ, calculating the cost of Hurricane Rita took months of tireless effort by a relatively small group of employees. They started their work in the midst of one hurricane season last September and finally ended it not long before the start of another on June 1.

In between, they painstakingly inputted and validated the time sheets of some 19,000 employees who worked through the storm and its aftermath, carefully measured the miles traveled by the numerous TDCJ vehicles used in the evacuation of offenders, diligently documented property damage estimates, and otherwise accounted for every resource used in weathering the storm.

When the numbers were finally totaled, the agency incurred approximately $14 million in hurricane-related costs to include property damage, employee labor, materials, transportation, and equipment. The agency has submitted eligible costs to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for potential reimbursement.

Administrative Review & Risk Management Director Debbie Liles said Rita proved to be the costliest storm she has witnessed in her 25 years with the agency.

“When you look at the totality of staff time, resources, materials, and property damage, I think this was extremely large for any entity of the state of Texas,” Liles said.

The job of calculating Rita’s cost fell primarily to several of Liles’ Risk Management employees working out of the department’s central office in Huntsville and to a handful of budget and facilities specialists who generously assisted in completing the task. For the better part of five months, they primarily inputted, analyzed and validated expense reports received from facilities affected by the storm in some way. At times, the workload became overwhelming, Liles said.

“It was a great learning experience, but it was very trying for the staff,” she said. “There were days when it was like a nightmare just because of the magnitude. But people did an exceptional job. It amazes me that time after time in this agency, when we think there’s an impossible task to be done, we just jump in and do it. Everyone had to help one another in this, and there was wonderful cooperation.”

Liles said FEMA representatives were also cooperative as TDCJ calculated its expenses.

“The representatives from FEMA were excellent,” she said. “They knew the job we had was huge and they were willing to work with us on it. It amazed me that as much that was going on in the state of Texas at the time, if you called them with a question, they would get back to you fairly quickly. That’s impressive to me because they were overloaded, certainly. I felt like they were trying to do a thorough job. They asked a lot of questions of us, much as I would expect from an accountant coming in and asking for details.”

On the eve of the start of a new hurricane season in late May, Liles said TDCJ stood better prepared because of what the agency learned from Hurricane Rita. In the months since the storm, the agency has participated in a three-day hurricane drill put on by the Texas Engineering Extension Service and staged its own preparedness exercise in Huntsville. Telephone hot lines for staff and offender family members have been established, communication systems have been enhanced, and a new computer database for the computation of expenses caused by future natural disasters has been built.

“Better preparation and organization,” Liles said about what the agency gained from Rita. “I think we’re looking at things like we never did before. There’s a number of in-house operations that we can do a little differently to make reporting more complete, simpler to sort, and easier to validate.”

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TDCJ brings home the gold in the Texas Round-Up Challenge competition

Ross and daughter bending down, stretching in front of state building
2006 Texas Round-Up Governor’s Challenge: Pernell Ross, correctional officer at the Torres Unit in Hondo, and his daughter, Kyana, warm up before the race.
Photo by Jene Robbins
In its best showing ever in the race for the Governor’s Cup, TDCJ brought home the gold award for large state agencies in the Third Annual Texas Round-Up Challenge competition.

More than 9,000 TDCJ employees, friends and family members participated to some degree in this year’s Round-Up, which ran from February 20 - April 2. More than 7,800 completed the entire six-week physical fitness program, a 29 percent increase over last year when TDCJ won the bronze award.

The yearly challenge – the only statewide fitness program in the nation – encourages Texans of all fitness levels to incorporate daily physical activities and healthy choices into their lives. The program culminates in Austin each year with a Fitness Festival featuring foot races and walks, as well as a health and fitness exposition.

The agency with the highest percentage of participation and completion is awarded the Governor’s Cup each year. In the large agency category, the cup went to the Department of Public Safety.

TDCJ employee participation has increased dramatically since 2004 when 2,755 employees, friends and family members took part and 1,996 completed the entire event. TDCJ employees who either complete the fitness program, run or walk in one of the foot races, or volunteer to work at the Fitness Festival become eligible for four hours of administrative leave.

“I would like to thank each and every one of you for your dedication, participation and hard work in making this year’s challenge a success for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston said in a message to employees.

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