Today is August 30, 2017. This is a terrible time for the residents of Houston and the Texas coast. My thoughts and prayers are with them. This was the thing my father, J.D. Rainbolt, worried about all the time. Early warning was his life. He worried about possible enemy attacks and natural disasters it so everyday people wouldn’t have to. He knew someday Hurricane Harvey would hit Houston. Maybe he didn’t know the name Harvey, but he knew, nevertheless.
This day in 1955, Houston Mayor Roy Hofheinz declared J.D. Rainbolt Appreciation Day. This honor was directly tied to the current crisis current visiting Space City.
Long before Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was a thing, Dad pioneered early warning for the general public. He was the military activities engineer for Southwestern Bell Telephone, and worked on loan to the city of Houston for three years as the Communications and Warning Division Chief. In his tenure in this position, he installed (at no cost to Houston or Harris County) 22 early warning sirens. According to State Coordinator William L. McGill, “Your great contribution to civil defense in Texas and particularly Harris County will be long remembered by this office. Your efforts have placed your part of Texas among the top areas of the nation in the communications and warning field.”
Until recently, I never understood Dad’s fascination with hurricanes and severe weather. Although I admit I have inherited his obsession. When I was a kid, every night during hurricane season, Dad would get out his charts and religiously plot the course of the hurricane de jour. After reading his papers, I now know he was moving resources to a safe, but accessible place so they could arrive as soon as possible after the storm passed.
I remember in 1961, going outside and watch the churning clouds of Hurricane Carla’s outer arms approach San Antonio. I don’t know why this made such an impression on me, but I can still close my eyes and see it. Carla made landfall as a category four around Port O’Connor. It did an enormous amount of damage all along the Texas coast. Dad had to make sure communications to the area was immediately available. Without communications, more tangible resources couldn’t arrive. It was truly a matter of life and death for those people affected by the storm. He laid the groundwork for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
After Dad’s death three years ago, I was going through his papers trying to find facts for his eulogy, I found a yellowed crumbling newspaper article that detailed his pivotal role in establishing the air raid warning sirens in Harris County, and one of the first in the U.S.
Since the end of the Cold War, the purpose of the sirens has changed. Although recent events in North Korea have renewed our concerns about nuclear attack, citizens of Texas have more immediate threats associated with natural disasters. Where I live in North Texas, these early warning alerts are used primarily for tornado warnings. Inside my home, I can hear sirens blare at least a couple of times each tornado season.
We all know about the legend that when a bell rings an angel earns his wings. But Dad has his own twist. Whenever I hear those tornado sirens, I know that Dad is still looking out for me.
He’s also still looking out for the people of Houston and Harris County. On this August 30, 2017, J.D. Rainbolt Appreciation Day, I’m sure he’s looking down with a heavy heart wishing he could do more to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Don’t worry Dad, by your example, the people of Texas have this. Love ya.
Do you have a message for J.D. or for the people of Houston? How do you plan on helping? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.