Monday, November 8, 2021

Audit report finds City was unprepared to respond to Winter Storm Uri

Office of the City Auditor to present audit results on Nov. 10. 

The Office of the City Auditor (OCA) plans to present its audit of the City's response to Winter Storm Uri to the Audit and Finance Committee (AFC) on Wed., Nov. 10, at 9:30 a.m.

Additional details, along with meeting backup, can be found here. After the audit is presented to Councilmembers at AFC, the City Auditor will be available to discuss this audit and the final report will be posted here.

On March 25, 2021 the Austin City Council passed a resolution directing the Office of the City Auditor to conduct an audit of the City's response to Winter Storm Uri that occurred in February 2021.

The impact of Winter Storm Uri was significant, and the storm had wide-ranging impacts across the state of Texas. Numerous Austin residents experienced periods without electricity for multiple days. Pipes across the city froze or burst leaving residents without water or struggling with flooding in their homes. Many Austinites had to leave their homes, travel in unsafe conditions, and shelter in City-run warming centers and shelters or with friends and family.

City of Austin staff responding to the emergency were also personally affected by the storm. Staff were experiencing their own power and water outages and managing family responsibilities in their homes. Additionally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made the City's response to the emergency particularly challenging with the added risk of spreading infection.

Scope of the Audit
This audit reviewed the City's preparedness and response efforts for Winter Storm Uri through a Citywide lens. Therefore, this audit largely focused on the City as an entity and Homeland Security Emergency Management (HSEM) as the office responsible for coordinating emergency preparedness and response efforts. This audit did not review:
•Technical aspects of the City's infrastructure or private infrastructure in the City,
•Response activities of other entities, such as school districts, counties, Capital Metro, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or the State of Texas,
•Technical operations in Austin Water or Austin Energy, or
•City 911 or 311 call center operations.

Summary of Audit Results
The City was unprepared to respond to Winter Storm Uri largely because the City did not adequately anticipate or plan for a widespread or severe winter storm.

While the storm was exceptionally severe, the City's lack of preparedness for Winter Storm Uri led to a less effective and disorganized response. Additionally, the City has not implemented many past recommendations that may have improved its response to the storm and has not historically prioritized disaster preparedness or community resilience.

The City's disaster planning and preparedness efforts also do not ensure the City has adequate resources, including staffing and supplies, to respond effectively to complex disasters like Winter Storm Uri. While City staff who responded worked diligently to respond to the disaster, these issues placed tremendous strain on the staff who were available to address the many  challenges the City faced as the storm intensified and infrastructure failed.

Beyond those challenges, the City did not communicate effectively with Austin residents in the days leading up to or during Winter Storm Uri, so residents were left without critical information that may have helped them stay safe.

Additionally, the City's disaster planning and preparedness efforts are not equity focused. As a result, the City's response to Winter Storm Uri did not effectively serve all residents, including people experiencing homelessness, seniors, and other vulnerable populations.

To address the audit findings, the Auditor's Office issued ten recommendations primarily relating to revising disaster plans, increasing staff and emergency supplies on hand, as well as enhancing communication with the public. City Management has agreed with these recommendations.
Following the Audit Finance Committee meeting on Wed., Nov. 10 the City Auditor Corrie Stokes will be available to answer questions.  Contact Patricia Fraga at 512-680-1012, with inquiries. 

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