Despite 20% of generators failing during Winter Storm Uri, city officials proclaim ‘infrastructure performed well’

KPRC 2 Investigates reveals city officials were unaware of outdated generators before the winter storm

KPRC 2 Investigates took a deep dive into the city of Houston's water problem

HOUSTON – Natural disasters, whether it’s a vicious hurricane or a crippling winter storm, they force municipalities and agencies into management mode. While managing the unpredictable is challenging, the approach is straightforward.

“Emergency management is structured around: Prepare for the disaster, respond to the disaster as best you can while it’s basically active, and then recover from the disaster,” Dan Krueger said.

Krueger is the former director of Public Works for the city of Houston. He knows the city’s water system and its operations quite well.

KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with Krueger during our investigation into approximately 20% of the city’s generators not operating correctly during February’s freeze.

For days, the city essentially went dry. Emails we obtained through a public information request laid out a desperate search for generators. The search going as far as Denver. The goal was to place them at operations facilities that went down as a result of the freeze.

“We have generators that are 40 to 50 years old. We have recognized that as a result of this event. Some of these generators need to go to the scrapyard,” said Drew Molly, Assistant Director for Houston Public Works, during a recent infrastructure committee hearing.

Krueger viewed the same hearing as well. When asked about Molly’s revealing comments and whether or not there was proper accountability being done prior to the storm, Krueger offered the following response, “If they were only identified after the storm, then of course not.”

As our report showed, Molly proclaimed that “much of the infrastructure performed well despite these conditions.”

But, remember the storm caused the loss of water in thousands of homes and businesses and even grounded traffic at Hobby Airport.

A recent Hobby School report detailed the struggles in the city as well as Harris County during the storm, which lasted for several days.

The city says a key reason was the number of busted and fractured pipes in the entire water system - including residential. The 37-minute hearing did not address everything.

“I would have had some key questions from that committee hearing that were left unanswered,” said Krueger.

Hurricane season is now on the horizon, but our status going following February’s storm has not been fully addressed.

“Have we recovered since the storm? That really wasn’t answered,” Krueger said.

Krueger added that the city can address the repairs by fixing everything immediately.

“You rehabilitate to replace a life and then you replace when you need to upgrade capacity,” Krueger said.

The integrity of pipes is critical for millions, whether it’s a city’s water supply or a region’s electrical system. As KPRC 2 Investigates recently learned during a tour of the El Paso Electric Company, their focus is directed at small pipes in order to maintain a successful system. The reason? Small failures can lead to huge shutdowns.

Krueger believes the city needs to be looking at every tiny detail to ensure the city’s system is properly addressed post-Winter Storm Uri, as well as for the future.

“The devil is in the details,” said Krueger. “You really need to get into the details of each of the small things and make sure you are doing all of the small things right. "

At a recent news conference, Mayor Sylvester Turner told KPRC 2 he has ordered Public Works to improve infrastructure, focusing on old and outdated parts.

“All the parties have been charged with coming forth (with) specific plans as quickly as possible, and in some cases, pilot plans to make sure that we build the most resilient system as possible,” said Turner.

Watch the KPRC 2 Investigates video extra below:

KPRC 2 Investigates video extra

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