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Extreme Freeze Leaves Rural Community Without Power or Running Water in Texas: Pottsboro Area Library Coordinates Emergency Response

What Happened

Pottsboro, Texas

In February 2021, winter storms swept across the state of Texas, triggering the largest energy infrastructure failure in state history. The freeze was uncharacteristic of typical weather, and insufficiently winterized power grids shut down in the extreme temperatures for the area. Texas declared a state of emergency for all 254 counties across the state due to the severe weather. As a result of this power crisis, millions of individuals and businesses in Texas were left without power or access to essential services. Pottsboro, a rural community in Grayson County, Texas, suffered an additional challenge when the community lost access to its city water utility source.

A Breakdown of Essential Services

Related Webinar

See the Building Local Level Partnerships for Rural Emergency Preparedness webinar recording to hear more about the Pottsboro Area Library's emergency response.

Following a debilitating winter storm that left many areas in Texas without power, the rural town of Pottsboro, situated about an hour and a half north of Dallas, faced additional challenges due to a loss of electricity and water. Community members were left without essential services in the freezing winter weather; it took up to 7 days for citywide infrastructure to be completely restored. One contributing factor to the severity of the event in Pottsboro can be linked to the shared-water resources between Pottsboro and the neighboring town, Denison. Pottsboro relies on this shared infrastructure for water, but the water tower is located in Denison. Repairs to the water tower took multiple days to complete. Water in Denison was restored first before it was able to be shared and distributed to Pottsboro.

At the onset of the disaster, Pottsboro residents were advised to collect snow and ice from outdoors to melt in the water tanks of their toilets so that basic sanitary practices could continue. However, after a couple of days, the small amounts of snow and ice on the ground had begun to melt. This problem was exacerbated quickly for residents living in apartment complexes. Pottsboro residents were at greater risk for illness during the already challenging loss of drinking, cooking, and cleaning water without a way to flush their toilets.

Through their social media presence in the community, the Pottsboro Area Library quickly mobilized and connected with local ranchers to coordinate well water distribution from their properties to the greater community. This endeavor identified access to potable and non-potable water sources. The physical transportation of water, both to the library from the ranches and from the library to individual residences, presented unique challenges. The library mitigated these barriers by involving all community levels to recruit volunteers with 4-wheel drive vehicles, excess containment units, and the physical capacity to carry over 50 pounds of water up or down the stairs. Additionally, the Pottsboro Area Library organized the setup of portable restrooms on their campus for those who needed them.

A Pottsboro resident fills a container with non-potable flushing water. Residents supported one another by making sure both drinking and flushing water were delivered to homebound residents.

While access to drinking and flushing water remained at the forefront of the library's emergency response efforts, additional concerns also came to light. Access to food was one such concern, and the library partnered with a local restaurant to address this problem. In exchange for securing cooking and cleaning water, the restaurant agreed to prepare hot meals for the community, free of charge. The library set up a drive-through pick-up line in their parking lot and coordinated volunteers to deliver meals to homebound residents. Because of this collaboration, 100 hot meals were donated to the community, and food waste was mitigated after losing power. In addition to coordinated response efforts, the Pottsboro Area Library utilized its social media presence to connect community members outside of city limits with handymen to assist with turning off their connections to the water supply line.

Prior Emergency Planning

The Pottsboro Area Library and a local restaurant, BAY at the Lake, set up a drive-through pick-up line so that residents could access hot meals while maintaining social distancing.

Prior to this event, the Pottsboro Area Library had no official plans for emergency operations or response. Though it had been active in applying for innovative grants and implementing new approaches to addressing community needs, the library lacked the funding, staffing, and time to develop official emergency preparedness plans in a disaster.

Community Response

Despite the lack of official emergency preparation, Pottsboro Area Library successfully implemented an effective community-coordinated response. Throughout the event, the library was able to utilize its standing in the community to engage local partners and facilitate the acquisition and distribution of water to community members. However, one of the most sustainable emergency response tactics resulted from the library's implementation of a “check on your neighbors” approach. Not all members of the Pottsboro community had access to the internet or used social media; by encouraging community members to look out for those around them, the community as a whole was strengthened in its capacity to respond to the disaster on a local level.

Recovery Efforts

After water and power services were restored to the community, the Pottsboro Area Library maintained momentum to organize a community debriefing process and kickstart future risk mitigation within the recovery phase. The Grayson County Office of Emergency Management, the Pottsboro mayor, the Pottsboro city manager, the local fire chief, and concerned citizens all came together with the Pottsboro Area Library to discuss strategies for better emergency management in the future. Rather than creating a space of blame or grievance, this community debrief focused on lessons learned, areas for improvement, and productive community-building. This process recognized partnerships and further strengthened collaboration between emergency preparedness stakeholders, including the United Way, the Texoma Council of Governments (TCOG), the American Public Health Association, local volunteer fire departments, and other rural libraries. Through a partnership with TCOG, Pottsboro Area Library applied for grants specifically available for recovery from the statewide loss of power. Additionally, the library has applied for grants from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for community emergency preparedness.

Grayson County Emergency Management and the Pottsboro Area Library host Community Emergency Response Team trainings, also known as CERT trainings, following the February 2021 power crisis.

The Pottsboro Area Library continued to engage the community in response and recovery efforts well past the point of crisis. One avenue that concerned community members could take to sustain involvement in preparedness efforts was by participating in Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) trainings hosted by the library. These 9-week trainings allow community members of varying backgrounds to prepare for community-managed emergency response through education and empowerment. Pottsboro Area Library has positioned itself as a point of contact for the community, including promoting emergency preparation efforts. Another way they have maintained open communication is through engagement with Code RED, a telephone-based emergency alerts and communications platform utilized by Grayson County Emergency Management. The library helps community members without home computers to sign up for Code RED Emergency Alerts.

CERT training participants in the classroom portion of the 9-week training program, hosted at the Pottsboro Area Library.

Pottsboro Area Library has identified a set of prospective goals that will help the community be better prepared for disasters in the future as well. During power outage emergencies, utility providers often prioritize essential services to keep their power on longer or get their power restored first. Dianne Connery, the Director of Pottsboro Area Library, plans to investigate avenues to have the library included on the list of essential service providers for the town of Pottsboro, should another event such as this one occur. Pottsboro Area Library is equipped with private telehealth rooms, banks of computers, device charging capabilities, and the “fastest internet in town”; in addition to its role as an emergency response coordinator, these facilities could prove useful to the community in a disaster. Connery is further spearheading efforts within Grayson County to increase internet infrastructure through collaboration between Pottsboro Area Library and two other libraries in the county. This level of innovation and knowledge-sharing is what allows the Pottsboro Area Library to transcend traditional library roles to support its community.

Success Factors

When Connery moved to the area in 2010, she noticed the library suffered from a lack of funding and staff. Since that time, Connery and her staff have transformed Pottsboro Area Library into an invaluable community resource beloved by residents by assessing community needs and evaluating how the library may be able to elevate its role to address these issues. The success of this transformation can be attributed to high levels of innovation, rigorous grant application writing, a maintained social media presence, and dedicated stakeholders willing to be flexible in addressing changing community needs. Pottsboro Area Library serves as one of the main sources for local information services, as the town lacks a local television news station or newspaper. Throughout the course of the disaster, the library maintained contact with the community by providing residents with essential updates and utilizing existing frameworks to support their success. Factors contributing to the success surrounding the extreme freeze event include the following.


Connery credited the passion and dedication exhibited by Pottsboro Area Library staff as one of the key contributing factors to the library's success, not only in response to the disaster but also as a maintained community resource.


Pottsboro Area Library prides itself on its openness to innovation and flexibility in addressing community needs. An innovative mindset allowed the library to conceptualize community emergency response efforts throughout the disaster.

Community Support

Connery credited the community and their willingness to care for one another as an essential factor in the success of community emergency response during this disaster. Individuals in the community were willing to go out of their way to help their fellow neighbors access essential services and care throughout the event.

Willingness to Persevere

Pottsboro Area Library incorporates a willingness to “make it happen” into its operating model. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the library stayed open to provide the community with a space to access internet, computers, and fax machines. Individuals were able to use the library as a resource for handling important paperwork, including power of attorney and end-of-life documentation via fax, unemployment and disability benefit applications, document notarization, and more. Additionally, the library incorporated features specific to the COVID-19 pandemic such as private rooms to access telehealth appointments for those who lack internet, devices, or privacy in their homes; a seed library and community garden to mitigate potential food supply chain shortages; and 3D-printing technology to produce ear-protecting mask holders for healthcare workers around the country. This innovative, continuous provision of community services throughout a nationwide pandemic prepared the Pottsboro Area Library to undertake emergency management and response efforts while also situating itself as a reliable institution in the community.


Overwhelmed Disaster Operations

As a small, rural town, Pottsboro city manpower is limited. One factor influencing Pottsboro Area Library's response to the disaster is communication difficulties among city government officials and their constituents regarding ongoing disaster response operations. The demands of this disaster only exacerbated existing challenges at the local level; the municipal duties of the library expanded to address and respond to concerns from residents.

The Role of a Library

Connery noted barriers within the emergency management community, including not being taken seriously due to the nostalgic role that libraries play in community quality of life. These pre-conceived notions as to the role a library should play in the community contribute to challenges to getting a seat at the table with community emergency management leaders. However, Pottsboro Area Library has multiple resources and tools with which they can provide assistance when working alongside community stakeholders toward the goal of disaster preparation.

Diplomatic Concerns

While Pottsboro Area Library is a city department, it operates as a “quasi-city” department separate from the local government. Therefore, while actions are independently decided upon by library personnel, the outcomes and reception of community initiatives still reflect on the larger city government.

Electric Grid Essential Services Designation

Since Pottsboro Area Library is not designated as an essential service, the library has to undertake community emergency response without additional resources in power-loss events.

Lessons Learned

Water Supplies

The biggest lesson learned by the Pottsboro community was to keep extra water on hand. In the event of a loss of utility services, residents could then be assured that they have adequate stores of both drinking and flushing water available.

Other Essential Supplies

Pottsboro Area Library has a solar-powered battery charger, which Connery said was used during the power loss event to keep her laptop and phone charged. This device was essential for maintaining social media updates and coordinating emergency services. The disaster revealed the importance of planning for alternative power sources and prompted the Pottsboro Area Library to explore grant options to augment their stock of power blocks and charging stations.

Individual- and Community-Level Disaster Preparation Information

Trainees were given backpack emergency preparedness kits upon their graduation from the CERT training course. Included are some helpful tools and resources that individuals should consider keeping in their car or their homes for emergency use.

Individuals in the community, including Connery, were unprepared for the disaster due to insufficient emergency preparation information. For example, an essential preparedness step is to ensure that the bathtub plug does not leak or allow water to drain when residents are advised to fill their bathtubs with water in anticipation of a loss of services. Additionally, crafting a makeshift tent inside a room of a house is a method to conserve heat during a winter power loss. Individuals in the Pottsboro community expressed frustration with the lack of emergency preparation and education at the individual and community level.


For rural community organizations looking to implement similar programs as Pottsboro Area Library, Connery suggested:

  • Research – Start the process by researching possible emergencies in the community and specific needs that the organization would be able to provide for in a disaster.
  • Network – Reach out to the county's emergency management office and identify how the organizations can collaborate for community-managed emergency response preparation and planning.
  • Apply – Research and apply to available grants and identify innovative avenues that are unique or specific to the organization's mission or capacity.

Person(s) Interviewed

Dianne Connery, Director
Pottsboro Area Library

Opinions expressed are those of the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rural Health Information Hub.