Master of (preparing for) disasters

Bobby Joe Stewart of Three Rivers is the new emergency management coordinator for Live Oak County.

GEORGE WEST – Anticipating disasters — and helping first responders and the public prepare for whatever concerns might arise — is the focus of Bobby Joe Stewart, who began serving as Live Oak County’s first full-time emergency management coordinator earlier this summer.

“I try to prepare everyone for the next emergency, but what’s that emergency going to be?” Stewart said.

Helping emergency response teams to anticipate potential problems — and to inform the public in advance on the best ways to deal with possible disasters is a task that demands skills in troubleshooting, experience in dealing with crisis situations and the ability to help manage a variety of concerns.

With that in mind, the Live Oak County Commissioners Court selected Stewart to fill the position.

He worked for Valero Three Rivers Refinery for 40 years — including serving on the refinery’s emergency response team — and served as the Three Rivers Volunteer Fire Department’s fire chief for 25 years.

Stewart replaced Gene Chapman, who has served in that position part-time, in late June.

“We appreciate the job Mr. Chapman did, and we are thrilled to have some one with Mr. Stewart’s qualifications and experience step into this position,” said Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff.

Stewart is also appreciative of the job Chapman did previously as the county’s emergency management coordinator.

“Gene did a great job,” Stewart said. “I’m trying to fill his shoes – he did a lot for the county. He is still very supportive, he just didn’t want the job full-time.”

A lifelong resident of Live Oak County, Stewart said he was born in Three Rivers and lived about half a block north of the city’s fire department.

His deep ties to the area and desire to help protect people in the community led him to join the volunteer fire department in the early 1990s.

In his new role, he will help make sure that area first responders get the training they need to deal with a variety of situations.

“It’s important that they be able to respond in the best and most efficient way possible, so I help make sure everything is in order,” Stewart said.

“The job also involves keeping the public informed and teaching them about how to stay out of harm’s way and to be able to respond if there is a fire, storm, chemical emergency or traffic emergency. Our goal is to keep them safe and let them know what to do in different situations.”

He encouraged people to put together emergency supply kits when can help sustain them and their families during crisis situations. More information about what items to place in these kits can be found online at ready.gov. Additional information on preparing for disasters can be found at https://www.dps.texas.gov/dem/PublicInfo.htm.

While much of Stewart’s time is spent in the office handling paperwork and arranging for training for first responders, he said he still enjoys a hands on approach whenever possible.

“I still like getting involved in helping with responders – I don’t mind jumping in and helping however I can,” he said.

Stewart said one of the prime concerns in South Texas is the threat of hurricanes. Although Live Oak County doesn’t face the dangers that those closer to the coast face, he has experienced the aftermath of a powerful hurricane firsthand.

“We are pretty fortunate that we are far enough inland that we don’t have the type of damage that is more common along the coast,” he said. “I do recall a flood in Three Rivers before they built the levy. I had to move out of my house in the middle of the night with my parents.”

Stewart said he was referring to the storm damage suffered during Hurricane Beulah in 1967, which hammered and drenched the area, causing extensive flooding.

He said when he and his family returned to their property, “the house was in six foot of water.”

“After that the mayor went out for a Bureau of Reclamation grant, and the levy was built,” Stewart said.

One of the major issues he focuses on today is making sure people are alert to any concerns around them.

“People need to be award of their surroundings and know how to react if an emergency arises,” he said. “It’s so important to be prepared.”

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or theprogress@mysoutex.com.