When First Transit General Manager Yevette McNeese learned the details of the large-scale flooding expected and massive rescue efforts needed in Fort Bend, Texas in late May, she knew the assistance needed would be more than her staff alone could provide while keeping up with every day service. She reached out to nearby First Transit and First Student locations in the area and they answered the call without hesitation.
Employees from First Transit’s Fort Bend location, Houston Fixed Route, First Student in Houston and the Houston RAC came together to provide transportation for residents needing to evacuate their homes. Residents were taken to emergency shelters set up by the Red Cross throughout the community, as well as to social service agencies and other necessary services. More than 300 people, including their pets and most cherished belongings, were evacuated to safe locations. The First Transit and First Student teams provided 24-hour, on-site management at the Fort Bend County Emergency Operations Center for five days and provided drivers on-call 24/7 for ten days.
The Fort Bend and Sugarland communities were devastated by the flooding. Due to the severity of the conditions, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for a 12-county area. Fort Bend County authorities estimate that 4,000 residents have seen their homes flooded and the losses in public infrastructure is estimated at $14 million so far.
As the waters rose, residents were picked up from their homes by the Army Reserves in high water vehicles and boats, and taken to safer meeting areas in and close to their neighborhoods. They were then picked up by First Transit and First Student drivers and taken to Red Cross shelters.
The Fort Bend County location, a First Transit customer since 2011, has only 80 employees on staff to operate 46 buses a day and do not normally operate late at night or on weekends. To ensure the needs of those displaced by the flooding were met, drivers were on call overnight, took buses home, worked over the weekends and gave up their scheduled time off.
“Anybody that we asked was very willing to help and jumped to it,” McNeese said.
The assistance didn’t stop with the transportation and evacuation services. Our employees continued to supply donations of their time and resources in different ways. For example, employees brought in suitcases filled with supplies for needy evacuees. They spent countless hours at the shelters and emergency center.
“Our staff got to know people at the shelter and did whatever they what they could to respond…whatever they needed”, McNeese said. “It was awesome to see.”
McNeese and driver Kathy Williams, who lives in the Fort Bend area, spent three full days and nights at the Emergency Management Shelter. They were on call 24-hours a day. McNeese and Williams helped families at the shelter, carrying for children and being available for any assistance needed.
Dispatch Manager Samantha Hoelscher also spent the night at the emergency center, coordinating emergency transportation efforts.
The Fort Bend County First Transit location also partnered with a local Mexican restaurant, Gringos, to supply a meal for the volunteers.
For one First Transit employee at the Fort Bend location, the devastation was personal. Driver Elsa Ramon lost everything when her residence was hit hard by the flooding. McNeese and co-workers were quick to assist, taking a trip to Wal-Mart to fill immediate needs for the family and supplying donations of clothes and furniture.
“I appreciate my staff and all of the other staffs for coming together and helping the community,” McNeese said. “Everybody gave up their time so willingly.”
Our client and county officials were also extremely thankful for FirstGroup’s assistance during the emergency event, and sent all of those who helped with the response efforts tickets for the Sugar Land Skeeters baseball game.
“I would like to thank you for the time you spent helping the citizens of Fort Bend County during the recent flood event,” Fort Bend County Judge Robert Herbert said in a recent thank you letter. “Your assistance was much needed and greatly appreciated.”
First Transit’s Fort Bend location is still operating two special emergency routes to meet the demands of the individuals displaced by the flooding, which is expected to continue until July.