On August 25, Tyler Smith world watched as Hurricane Harvey plowed into Houston.
Smith, 35, has lived through many natural disasters and national emergencies — this time, though, the disaster happened in his backyard.
“You see all these emergencies and you wish you could help,” Smith said. “When they happen, they’re usually half across the world where you couldn’t do anything. When it came to Harvey, it was in my backyard.”
Smith is an oil and gas landman working for Brown Goblin in Dallas. He watched as a Category 4 hurricane struck Houston. The storm left thousands homeless and stranded. According to National Public Radio, about 100,000 homes have been affected by the storm. More than 300,000 people were stranded or housed in emergency shelters.
The Monday after the storm, Smith received a call from a friend.
“One of my hunting buddies called me and told me that Houston was in need of people,” he said. “When Mother Nature calls, we’re all family.”
The boat he was going to use was broken. Smith put out a Facebook message for people to see what else he could do to help. The next day, he received another call. This time it was from the Bowfishing Association of America.
“The BAA had a few hundred boats in stock and asked if I wanted to come down and lend a hand so, of course I went,” he said. “When you have a specific skillset, you use it. They had more bodies there but what they needed was people who knew how to work on a boat.”
As he traveled south, the weather turned from sunny to a downpour in minutes.
“I was about an hour outside of Houston and it all began to change. As I pulled off into a gas station to get my gear ready, there was a long line of trailer and boats filling up with gas,” Smith said. “They were only filling up to head right back into it.”
When he arrived, thousands of volunteers were scrambling into the wreckage. Volunteer organizations were allocating responsibilities to new recruits, a majority of the communication was done through apps like Zello.
Zello is a walkie-talkie communication app that volunteers used to stay in touch. It was also is used to locate those stranded in Houston. This style of communication was first used by the Cajun Navy.
Nicknamed the Cajun Navy, Louisiana and Mississippi locals have gathered their boats to provide help for the Harvey relief effort. Members say it’s their way to pay it forward for the help they received from Texas during Hurricane Katrina.
Since then, the Texas Navy has made it to where each town has a specific channel.
Smith worked for the Spring, Texas volunteer group.
“I would set up from midnight to three in the morning and listen to the dispatch,” he said. “If I would hear anything, I would report it to those on the ground and they would be on the move to help rescue.”
According to Smith, volunteers are working around the clock.
When Smith wasn’t working as a dispatcher, he was in the water saving those stranded by the storm. Volunteers from Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and other southern states worked alongside him.
“It was amazing to see that volunteers were out there running the shop,” he said. “The people I helped will always stick with me. There were two women I helped in which one of the girls was diabetic. While I helped out, her sister was hugging us. It was incredible.”
Smith said he was surprised by the lack of government assistance.
“There wasn’t any government help that I saw while I was down there,” he said. “What I’ve learned is that our country isn’t ready for natural disasters.”
After two days, Smith had to return to Dallas. However, even now, he feels guilty for leaving.
“There are people there who are doing their volunteer work completely out of pocket. If I could’ve stayed and helped more, I’d still be down there.”
For those who want to still help with the relief effort, Smith had some advice.
“Find someone local and contact them directly,” he said. “Giving money to the Red Cross is great but you’ll do more by giving your time and money to those affected and the boots on the ground.”
To look back from when Hurricane Harvey began, click the link below to catch up on what you missed.