Sept. 15, 2017 // Southwest Alternate Regional Vice President Chris Parris and Houston TRACON FacRep Clay Matheny’s Messages Following Hurricane Harvey
Southwest Region Alternative Regional Vice President Chris Parris’s message following Hurricane Harvey below.
William Shakespeare once said, “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it’s the wisest path.” The heroic sacrifices made by countless Americans can’t possibly be tallied, but NATCA members across our Region knowingly and willingly faced that sour adversity when they braved the elements and left their families behind, when they didn’t have to. They risked their lives by heading to work — some for over 80 hours straight — to keep America flying, to keep our precious air traffic control system running. It is as heroic a deed as I have ever witnessed. Coming together under extreme adversity is what this Union’s men and women have adopted, willingly, each and every time the need presents itself.
They did not do this for praise. They did not do this to impress. They did it because that is what air traffic controllers do on a routine basis. The adverse becomes the norm.
We are very grateful for the show of support during our time of adversity. I assure you, our members will be there during yours.
Houston TRACON FacRep Clay Matheny’s personal account of Hurricane Harvey below.
On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston and the surrounding areas with tremendous amounts of rain and wind. Over the next several days, Houston saw a storm like we have never seen before. There were parts of Houston that received 48 inches of rain and many communities were devastated. This story is about not only the resolve of the people of Houston, Texas, but also the resolve of our Houston TRACON (I90) brothers and sisters.
Houston really started to flood on Sunday, August 27. During this time, eight controllers and one Traffic Management Coordinator were told to stay to make sure we could keep the operation running: Starsky Smith, Joseph Wright, Adam Rhodes, John Howell, Johnnie Jackson, Robert O’Reilly, Todd Hanner, Chris Schmidt, and Aaron Baccus (all NATCA brothers). There were more that were able to come in on Monday and Tuesday — Andrew Stachowiak, Ryan McCain, Joe Hardesty, Matt Sheffield, Barry Aurich, Thomas Talbott, and Joe Giles (also all NATCA members). In addition to the members, there were two Operations Managers, Mike Richardson and Dennis Warfield, and three Front Line Managers, Kyle Dohmen, Dean Hall, and Tom Croteau. In addition, our Air Traffic Manager came in the first day he could and brought food. All other personnel at I90 were either on regular days off, leave, or Article 19 (hazardous weather conditions leave).
Everyone that was at the facility during Hurricane Harvey was at the facility from 24 to 80 hours. Almost all of those stuck at I90 during the storm had loved ones — a spouse and children — at home.
The professionalism and poise that these folks showed during a time where they didn’t know if their families and houses were going to be okay, was amazing. Coming from someone that was not there during that time, I find it incredible that they were able to stay focused on the job.
NATCA and management came together to make sure that the operation ran as smoothly as possible given the stress and uncertainty of what the next few days were going to bring. Adam Rhodes, Mike Richardson, and Kyle Dohmen quickly realized that the crew that was there would be the “Hurricane Crew.” The controllers ran the operation and determined how many people it took to run the room and how many they needed on rest. Management gave the controllers complete discretion on running the floor. The Operations Managers and Front Line Managers handled all coordination to include phone calls about the storm, rescue operations, and the recovery of the city.
They ran two crews initially with one crew working eight hours while the other crew rested. Once the rescue operations started, they changed the plan, and rotated breaks as needed. The traffic went from light to insanely heavy as soon as the helicopters and other rescue aircraft came into Houston.
Before the roads with access to I90 were completely flooded, Mike Richardson and Johnnie Jackson made a supply run. They grabbed what essentials were left such as soap, water, and food. They figured with what they got, they had enough food until Monday.
As time progressed and roads became a bit more accessible near I90, some of those that could get out of their neighborhoods began showing up to work. Once they did, they were able to let some of the original crew go home to check on their families and homes. When the new controllers came in, they brought much needed food and supplies to the facility.
During all this, we still had the responsibility of making sure that all I90 employees were safe and accounted for. As if Adam wasn’t busy enough, he had to help make phone calls to make sure everyone was safe. With the help of management and myself, Adam created a plan for staffing once the storm started to leave our city.
Rescue efforts really started to come full speed on Tuesday.
I90 works roughly 150 miles of airspace and there were dozens on dozens of Coast Guard helicopters and humanitarian flights in our airspace. The I90 crew had to continuously improvise, adapt, and overcome the changing conditions and continued increase in traffic each hour. By the time the original crew left the building, we were in full-blown recovery mode and the amount of aircraft flying were too many to count.
On Wednesday, most controllers could make it to work. The outgoing crew knew that there was a lot of information that they needed to pass, so they had the incoming crew meet in a briefing room and they went over outages, temporary flights restrictions, best practices, and lessons learned over the last 80 or so hours. No controller could work traffic until they received the briefing. After all were briefed, the original crew stuck around and monitored the operation to make sure that the incoming controllers understood the operation and were there if someone had a question.
During Mother Nature’s outburst, all lines were erased. There were no sides. There was not one group telling another what to do. They simply came together, did what they had to do, and they worked as one unit.
The way the I90 Hurricane Crew operated during the whole ordeal should be used as a model for how the operation should be run every day at every facility in the FAA.
I’m extremely proud of everyone at I90 who had to weather the storm. They stayed and made sure that others, like me, were able to stay home and take care of our families. For that, I personally will be forever grateful.
I’d like to thank all my brothers and sisters for what they did after the storm. From those here in Houston helping members gut their flooded homes, to those around the country that donated money or supplies. It’s a great feeling knowing no matter what we go through as a facility that we have brothers and sisters all over the country that are more than willing to help. We had two members at I90 who had their homes flooded and we had numerous members at their houses helping them remove debris, cut drywall, and anything else they needed. Our brothers and sisters in Texas drove much needed supplies to us because there were items such as bleach that we couldn’t get in Houston.
Thanks to the Harvey Relief effort put together by the leadership of Southwest Regional Vice President Andrew Lebovidge and Alternate Regional Vice President Chris Parris, we have been able to help our members with their recovery. They came up with a system where they had a team of members that took the names of those that were affected the worst and matched them up with eager volunteers willing to help. Thank you both for your continued and unrelenting leadership.
I saw the best of my Union last week. I saw the best of my state. I saw the best of my country. I’m very proud of being an American, a Texan, and a NATCA member.