Fourteen UTPD officers recognized for Hurricane Harvey recovery assistance in Port Aransas, Houston

Tehreem Shahab

The UT Police Department recognized 14 officers for their response to damaged UT-Austin properties in Port Aransas and Houston with a certificate and ribbon to wear on their uniforms last Wednesday.

UTPD sent 12 officers to the UT-Austin Marine Sciences Institute in Port Aransas and two to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston roughly 10 days after Hurricane Harvey. Capt. Chris Bonnet, one of the officers who was sent to Port Aransas, said they provided assistance in different ways, such as delivering water to residents and providing first aid, but they mainly focused on ensuring there was no criminal activity in the area. 

“Primarily, our job down there was to make sure no looting was going on or any other criminal activity on campus,” Bonnet said. “Law enforcement resources were stretched pretty thin on the island and we were there to make sure that the few officers that were there on the island did not have to worry about property.” 

UTPD kept a presence in both areas for about two weeks. Bonnet said only two officers were required to assist in Houston because it is a larger suburban area with enough law enforcement resources. The two officers were required to drive a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, strictly used by UTPD for high water rescues. 

“We took two of our officers that were trained and drove it down to Houston where they used it to transport mostly doctors around town,” Bonnet said. “All of the city was closed due to high water and road damage so the vehicle came very handy for that.” 

According to a news release by the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston on Sept. 8, 2017, at least 35 percent of MD Anderson’s workforce had to evacuate their homes or experienced damage to their property during Harvey.

Sgt. Brian Dillenberger, who was deployed in Port Aransas for five days, said the work day there went from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

“We did that everyday for five days,” Dillenberger said. “We were responsible for patrolling the island and UT property as well and help out individuals who needed assistance — we were there to give people reassurance.” 

Sally Palmer, UT Marine Sciences Institute’s communications coordinator, said UT MSI has about 80 buildings on its campus and each suffered some kind of damage from Hurricane Harvey. Palmer said UT MSI is about 15 percent of the way finished with rebuilding and recovery. 

“All the buildings require work and there are a lot of some of them also require re-engineering,” Palmer said. “There’s a lot of our bigger buildings that had significant roof failures, so we have to do engineering and feasibility studies … There’s just a lot of process because there is so much damage. It’s also taking awhile because there’s a lot of damage in the surrounding communities and there’s not a lot of contractors available as they would be normally.” 

Palmer said UTPD’s additional assistance was helpful to security personnel as well as the rest of UT MSI’s staff. 

“They really helped us maintain a significant security presence,” Palmer said. “A lot of our own security or personnel’s homes were damaged, so some of them weren’t able to be at the Institute doing recovery, so emotionally it was a really big benefit to have them there.”