Dallas Mayor Commends Helpers During Winter Storm, Demands Answers, Reform From ERCOT, Oncor

Mayor lauds nonprofit community, first responders and city workers for how they've stepped up during this week's winter weather, while battling power issues and extreme cold

NBC 5 News

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says the city will demand answers from ERCOT and Oncor on what steps will be taken to prevent a repeat of the power outages felt statewide this week while also commended city staff, first responders and the nonprofit community for how they responded to those in need during the winter storm, rushing to provide aid in record low temperatures amid an ongoing pandemic.

Johnson said on some level he felt betrayed by those we depend on to keep the lights on and that Oncor and ERCOT are both going to have to explain what happened, why rolling blackouts were inconsistent and if there was any inequity in which areas suffered prolonged outages.

"It's obvious at this point that what we've been doing doesn't work," Johnson said. "That has to change."

The mayor said he was told by the CEO of Oncor that there was no inequity in whose power was cut, but that he was never made aware of a schedule of how rolling outages would be implemented across the city.

Johnson, who said he lost power at his home for several hours every day, said he was told there were some customers whose power never went off while there were others whose power was off for hours, if not longer.

A former state legislator, Johnson said the state is in charge of the Public Utilities Commission that oversees ERCOT and that all possible scenarios should be on the table for a resolution to the outages, including tying the Texas power grid into the national grid.

He hoped the current legislature would revisit a bill he authored in 2015 that was struck down by party-line vote in the third reading that would have required state agencies, like the PUC, to take state climatologist data related to extreme weather events into their planning. Johnson said it would have forced them to prepare for an event like what just happened.

Rocky Vaz, director of emergency management for the city of Dallas, said roughly 700 homeless people were being provided shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center downtown and that the shelter would remain in place for the time being.

Due to the unstable power grid, Vaz said the city was not able to open warming centers inside neighborhood recreation centers. Instead, Vaz said, they parked 19 coach buses outside libraries and recreation centers where people could get on the bus, warm up and grab a snack. Vaz said some people ended up sleeping overnight in the buses.

Now that the power is back on, they plan to remove the bus warming stations and bring people inside the recreation centers.

Vaz confirmed there were pipe breaks at The Tower Building, one of the Fair Park buildings used in the COVID-19 vaccination hub. The Tower Building was serving as an observation building for people after the shot and they do not expect to see any disruption at the Fair Park vaccination hub.

Dallas is not currently under a boil water mandate and the city's supply is stable and safe to drink for now.

Dallas Fire-Rescue Assistant Chief Bret Stidham said call volume has more than tripled this week, up from 800 on a normal day to more than 2,800 Wednesday. Calls included requests for help with fires, water shut-offs as well as people who were using grills, stoves, and other unconventional, dangerous methods for heating homes.

Stidham said that the department lost power at 15 stations and some above-ground water tanks are freezing. Still, though the volume is up, Stidham insisted DFR will still answer all calls.

Stidham added that there were more than 1,500 calls for people who were transported to hospitals but he wasn't able to verify any deaths related to the weather conditions and said that information would need to come from the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office.

The city said they anticipate beginning limited garbage and recycling operations on Friday, servicing only areas that we were unable to collect last week. Full operations will re-start on Monday, Feb. 22, following the normal collection schedule. The city anticipates higher than usual volumes next week, so there may be multiple trucks in neighborhoods as they work to catch up. Brush and Bulky Trash collection is also impacted. Follow normal schedules, but expect collection delays.

City Manager TC Broadnax said the city will be doing a review of the city's response in the days after things return to normal.

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