Hurricane Harvey Hits Houston Hard


Jessica Jensen, associate professor and department head of emergency management, spoke on the response and recovery efforts to Hurricane Harvey.

In the world of emergency management, response is the first few days where immediate actions are taken to save lives, property and the environment. Recovery can stretch on for years.

Part of response is many organizations, governmental organizations, non profits and individuals alike, attacking the issue all at once. It is first and foremost a local activity on a legal and functional level.

Even where disasters are small, severe impacts take concerted efforts from every form of organizations from family to federal aid.

Governments typically plan and practice within their jurisdiction. They react locally and with the support of state and federal governments.

According to Jensen, recovery from hurricane Harvey will be “protracted and painful.” Harvey affected hundreds of thousands of homes, encroaching on 200,000, thousands of government structures and agriculture.

“We have to look back to super storm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina to see something even close to … how it will work here, particularly for individual households,” Jensen said.

Governments will typically prioritize maintaining government buildings and managing debris for the benefit of the whole community, but in the process families lose the focus of government support.

For example, if a person qualifies for all federal help they will qualify for about $30,000, which is not very much help when you have nothing to your name.

Additionally, many of the people affected by Hurricane Harvey didn’t have flood insurance. The people without flood insurance are the ones that will feel the longest impact of the storm.

Recovery will take at least a decade, depending on the definition of recovery. Are we talking about households? Government institutions? Infrastructure? Public health? Quality of life? What is the measure of recovery?

There just isn’t one single sense you can use to understand an event like this.

People in North Dakota can help by donating dollars, not goods.

Donate to local Texas organizations that were in Texas and will remain in Texas after the hurricane.

Donating cash injects money into the local economy. (National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) works to support regional recovery efforts and people in North Dakota can donate to them.

Donating goods does not help when the people affected constantly move in pursuit of rebuilding their lives. Funding can cover bus passes, toothbrushes, interview clothes and other expenses which the individual or organization can time according to their needs.

The severity of this event was related to economic and infrastructural decisions made as human beings. From not taking care of our costal wetlands to building on barrier islands that protect us to getting rid of the natural vegetation that acts as a buffer to hurricane storm winds, “We did a lot of things to get rid of the things that naturally mitigate the effects of these events,” Jensen said.

Then human beings decided to build where water would naturally go and covered it with cement so the water can not soak into the ground.

“We further did not take care of the systems we use to manage water, (Houston’s water system) can not handle the amount of water that Houston gets (based on) the last decade,” Jensen stated.

Some of the infrastructural effects outside of the destruction of property include hazardous materials released and contaminated water treatment centers, and it will take a long time to address those things.

As humans, the destruction to the natural resources that typically mitigate the effects of a natural disaster, particularly a flood or hurricane, have largely been destroyed and should be replaced.

In the long term, pretty much everywhere in the United States, taking into account how the natural world protects us from natural events is advisable according to Jensen.

“If we want to live where flooding is common, then we need to invest in protecting the environment and restoring it’s natural mitigative features. We need to go more wholesale into mitigation to protect ourselves in the long term,” Jensen said.

There are two ways this can happen, through structural or non-structural mitigation.

Structural mitigation is man made, it needs upkeep. Such as levies or dikes, seawalls, that deteriorate over time without a focused sustain effort to maintain them.

Non-structural mitigation is where people do things to restore the natural mitigative features of our environment, such as sand dunes or mitigative plants specific to the area. These are more sustainable solutions.

“Disasters are actually the product of the decisions we make in our society,” Jensen said, stating again that while the disasters faced aren’t always preventable, they are manageable. “There is no silver bullet.”

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