Archive for September, 2008

Neighbor 2 Neighbor
September 17, 2008

(Wednesday, September 17th @ 8:30 AM)

I am sitting here at my desk…waiting for my traffic segment to come up. We have these unusually long stints without traffic in the show, since we continue to cover so much of Ike’s aftermath. Once again our show began at 4 AM this morning and our Neighbor 2 Neighbor call center began at 6:30AM. I have been hosting that part of our show for the past couple of days and wanted to share my experience with you.

Jen gathering information to say on-air

Jen gathering information to say on-air

After reporting the latest in traffic, I switch gears around noon by answering questions from the public. I dont sit and man-a-phone, per se…because I am walking around helping our volunteers find the answers to your questions. The calls that I do handle are usually those with a more difficult answer or one that requires more attention. We first set the call center up to help “spread the word.” The “word” about ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Where are the open gas stations? Help me find the nearest POD. Is the City of Kemah open? What is the Harris County curfew? I need access to a computer. What if I am almost out of heart medication? When will my power be turned back on? I need a generator. How do I find my lost pet? These are just some of the thousands of questions that come into our Neighbor 2 Neighbor call center. No question is too simple or stupid. Some callers don’t even have questions…they just want to vent or talk to someone. By the end of the call…I try to make sure that each person has an answer or feels a sense of relief. I really love working the phones! It doesn’t matter if someone is yelling at me or crying their heart out…I know that I am going to try my best to leave them with a smile.

Working with the vlounteers who manned the call center

Working with the volunteers who manned the call center

Take for example, a twenty-year old woman who lives “out in the country,” near Splendora. Splendora is in Montgomery County off of 59 the Eastex freeway, north of New Caney and even further north of Humble and Kingwood. It’s a town witha population of about 1500 people. Our caller said she was 7 months pregnant and that the storm left her family withno water or electricity. The nearest POD is about 30 miles away and her town does not provide public transportation. To make matters even worse, she has a few farm animals to feed. Frustration grew as she continually called 311 for 2 hours as it rang busy. We were her last bit of hope for the “basics,” like drinking water. Her plea did not go unanswered.

Answering the hotline

Answering the hotline

What breaks my heart too…are the elderly who call. Some sound frightened, others just weary. One lady, very polite and sincere, just didnt know what to do after her Wheel On Meals stopped arriving. Some have trouble getting around their own house, so it makes me pause and wonder what they have done for the past 4 days. Four days can feel very long when you don’t have power, water or a pantry of food. I suppose they had a couple of days worth…and are running low now.  

If you think that we can help, give us a call at 713-271-1905 (6:30AM-6:30PM).

By the way, we couldnt help those in our community without the volunteers that choose to team up with us. They are regular folks who come in to make a difference. Your neighbors and I thank you for being so compassionate.

The volunteers taking calls

The volunteers taking calls

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Saturday-Ike just passed
September 13, 2008

(3:30 pm Saturday)

Hello everyone,

The eye of the storm has passed and so has most of the rain. Let me just say right off the top…that many of you have emailed me. I am trying to get to each and every email. The shorter the email right now, the faster I can respond. 🙂

Anyway, I am working from home. I am actually one of the few who still has power. Officials estimate that some 2.1 million people are without power at this time. My parents and most friends are included in that estimate. Our station as a matter of fact is working on backup generators as well.

Here is how it all started for me: THURSDAY, I arrived to work at 4:30am. We spent ALL morning telling folks about the initial mandatory evacuations which included Zones A and B (Southeast Texas), along the coast. At first, despite our reports, traffic was very light. From 5am until 7am, there were hardly any slows. We realized then, that people even in the Greater Houston area, knew they were not going into work that day. The morning news came to a close at 7am, the Today Show aired for about an hour and then our morning news cut back in. We were on-air for the rest of the day. I could feel the gradual change in atmosphere at work as the time passed. The moment we saw traffic stacking up on the Gulf Freeway due to evacuees heeding official advice and using their own common sense…I knew that it would be a long day for many.

I continued to report on the traffic conditions until about 7pm Thursday night. A lot of you decided to leave Southeast Texas and head toward San Antonio, Dallas, College Station, etc…. I thank many of you for your support and emails of praise. I want you to know that not only is it ‘my job’…but that there was this sense of adrenaline that kicked in and as a reporter I did not want to stop until people felt well-informed and secure. People needed their travel information. It wasn’t JUST another day! It was an exception, a time when many people felt fearful and alarmed. Families who really wanted to leave though – did NOT want it to be another “Rita drive.” They didn’t want the Ike evacuation to take 16 hours or more to get out of town as it did just a few years ago. I understood completely and I’m happy to now say that the worst backup delays never amounted to more that 4 hours. We did not have massive fuel shortages like last time either. While gathering information for air, I was also blogging, answering phones and emails for people who needed information on their specific routes.

It was one of the most significant feelings I have ever experienced.

If you have read my bio…it says in part, “Waking up every day, knowing that I have an important responsibility to report traffic accurately and hopefully save people time and a headache…” Its authenticity could not have been more real.

So, once traffic cleared out for the most part…I went home Thursday to get some sleep. That night, I had to pack all necessary items for a few days in case I was asked to stay at the station through Hurricane Ike. I returned to work Friday morning at 4:30am and worked another 10 hours. The rush began to slow down though and those who were not out of the city by that time had pretty much decided to stay and hunker down.

Prepped for Hurricane Ike
September 11, 2008

Houston had time to prepare for the Category 2 Storm:

Postal Service

Postal Service

Gas stations with pumps wrapped

Gas stations with pumps wrapped

Academy closed on my search for rain boots

Academy closed on my search for rain boots

Katy HOV – Your opinion?
September 8, 2008

Good Monday Morning to you-

Well, many of you have been writing in and asking what I think of the Katy HOV lane closing. First, let me say that I think things could have been worse this morning as far as the backup. Overall, it was not too bad because many of you were informed about the change. Park Ten was about the worst that we saw traffic get all morning long. Those extra mainlanes sure did help the commute out as well. We did see some drivers who either were not paying attention to signs or who thought that they were “the exception to the rule” and kept driving in the HOV lane. Well, officers were waiting at the Addicks Park and Ride portion of the ramp to steer everyone off…with the exception of Metro Buses.

My opinion: Houstonians and people who live in Katy will be happy with the new HOV and managed lanes coming late October.  🙂

 

Now it’s your turn to let me know what you think…if you drive the Katy freeway (HOV or not), chime in. Let me know how your drive into work was and any thoughts you have on the topic.