While Texas Task Force 1 has worked countless major disasters in the past 21 years, 2018 was statistically the busiest year for the first responder team.
The agency was deployed a record number of 18 times in 2018, the largest number of deployments in a given year. A total of 571 TX-TF1 members were called forward to assist, whether on a state or federal level.
According to TX-TF1 spokesman Stephen Bjune, 2018 started quiet, but toward the end of the summer, heavy rains filled the state's rivers and lakes. In June, first responders with TX-TF1 had been deployed to parts of South and East Texas to support local police and fire departments in rescuing potential flood victims. Bjune referred to 2018 as a "monsoon year."
September took TX-TF1 to Hawaii in response to Hurricanes Olivia, while teams also reported to the Carolinas to assist during Hurricane Florence.
In October, Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle, which led to the deployment of TX-TF1, which is sponsored by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. Task force members were also sent to North and Central Texas in October after intense rainfall led to flash flooding. According to a TEEX press release, Texas alone received 30 inches of rain between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.
Other events TX-TF1 members responded to included providing search and rescue manpower to California during the Camp Fire; working at the Gatesville hospital explosion over the summer and assisting with the San Marcos apartment fire in July.
"The Gatesville explosion led us to assist with the San Marcos apartment fire," Bjune said. "Some of it's because of our education... We can provide technical assistance on these smaller jobs. Those deployments were just a couple of days long, as opposed to Hurricane Harvey, which lasted weeks. We were able to keep those [fellow first responders] safer."
TX-TF1 can be deployed both by Texas leadership or by the U.S. president as an extension of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Bjune said the expected 2019 weather patterns will keep the group busy this year. Bjune also pointed out that the government shutdown in Washington, D.C., won't stop TX-TF1 boots from hitting the ground this year if needed.
Each year, when the task force performs federally funded missions, they operate on funding saved from the year prior. FEMA will remain operational for the duration of the year, he said, and the shutdown could theoretically only affect the 2020 year. Additionally, TX-TF1 is also backed by the Texas Legislature.
"We have responded to events during every month of the year, including tornadoes in December and flooding in April," TX-TF1 director Jeff Saunders is quoted as saying in the TEEX release. "Eighty percent of our deployments are water-related, and at least a third of our deployments have been outside hurricane season. For this reason, we train year-round so we can respond at a moment's notice, regardless of the 'season.' When we respond, our goal is to do the most good for the most people in the least amount of time."