With typical Houston humidity fogging up her car windows, Rhonda Sauter twisted up her hair, peered over her reading glasses and studied her map of a Kingwood neighborhood.
Sauter, a division manager for the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office in the Department of Neighborhoods, rallied her team, split up the maps, and prepared for a third day of canvassing neighborhoods for flood damage.
The surrounding area was hit hard by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Imelda just two weeks before.
Gone were the rolls of mildewed carpet and sheetrock, but telltale signs of damage remained — water lines on bricks and garage doors, browning patches of grass where water had deposited debris.
In the weeks following a flood or severe weather event, DON employees hit the streets to assess resident needs. It’s an important component of the city’s disaster response plan.
First, DON inspectors do “windshield assessments,” driving through flood-affected areas and taking photos of damage typically while still inside the vehicle.
The Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office uses that data, coupled with 311 reports, to map out specific neighborhoods. Representatives then “block walk” door-to-door to record more detailed information about the extent of damage.
When residents’ property is damaged in a severe weather event, it may feel like help is about a million frustrating phone calls, confusing forms and headaches away — until someone knocks on your door to offer help.
“I like what I do, I think customer service is my forte,” Sauter said. “I feel like I’m really trying to help someone. We’re trying to bring services to people and let them know we’re available to help.”
Walking through the Kingwood neighborhood, Sauter left Ready Houston information packets on the doors of at least a dozen homes. A handful of residents answered their doors and spoke about the extent of their flood damage.
One woman answered all of the survey questions with her husband observing and commenting through the Ring doorbell security camera.
“We do this every time there is storm damage that could potentially be covered by FEMA,” Sauter said. “Residents can fill out the survey themselves online, but we offer personal assistance in completing the survey on site. Every little bit helps when you are overwhelmed with damage. We give them information packets, and encourage them to register on the Imelda website.”
“It’s important for us to document flood damage so FEMA can make a disaster area designation, which will qualify flood victims to receive FEMA funds,” Sauter said.
Over the last month, FEMA announced that assistance is available for people affected by Tropical Storm Imelda. Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) and a Mobile DRC are now open in Harris, Jefferson, and Chambers counties.
The City of Houston and Harris County have also established the Imelda Assistance Fund in cooperation with the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which administered the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
Sauter said that DON employees have staffed Disaster Recovery Centers after previous floods.
“We go where we’re needed. That’s one of the things I like about it, because it’s not the same thing every day,” Sauter said.
The Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office responds to inquiries and service requests and collaborates with city departments, civic groups and community partners. Staff members assist with outreach, special events like the Mayor’s Back to School Festival, community cleanups, and coordinate public presentations during City Council public session.
“We not only help citizens, we also help other departments. People think we just attend meetings, but I think we’re a hidden resource,” Sauter said.
To learn more about Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office services visit https://www.houstontx.gov/cao/.
To learn more about Imelda recovery assistance, visit https://houstonrecovers.org.