As Texans continue to assess the impact of Hurricane Harvey months after its landfall, Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&M University is working to use the lessons from the storm to prepare for the future.
Pamela Plotkin, an associate research professor at A&M and director of Texas Sea Grant, said the storm left the state with “unprecedented damages,” making it clear that Texans need to be better prepared.
It’s important to take the lessons learned from the storm into account to try to mitigate the potential for any repeated damage, she said.
“Hopefully, we will be able to take information that is gathered by our scientists and translate that for the public into usable tools, products and services that we can then use to help them better prepare their properties, their homes and their communities for future events such as Hurricane Harvey,” Plotkin said.
According to a Texas Sea Grant’s report on the damage from Hurricane Harvey, roughly 6.5 million people were affected by 30 inches or more of rain over a six-day period. Maximum rainfall was counted at more than 64 inches, wind gusts were recorded at a peak of 151 miles per hour, the storm surge peaked at 12.5 feet, and there were 28 confirmed tornadoes.
The storm is estimated to have caused $198 billion in damages, $15 billion in port closure losses, more than $200 million in agriculture losses and 88 deaths.
Plotkin said there are several areas — including agriculture, fisheries and other aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico — in which the effects of the storm are still being determined and the extent of which could remain unknown for some time.
She said taking the time to assess how coastal areas were affected and using that information to better educate the public on how to prepare and respond to natural disasters like Harvey is an important step toward a safer future.
“We all need to be better educated about our personal properties and how to make them more resilient to future storms,” Plotkin said. “We need to learn how to build smarter, how to prepare for storms in a more efficient, holistic way and to think about where we put future constructions.”
She said she hopes people seek to become more knowledgeable with the help of better information and resources available to the public.
Among the efforts Plotkin said A&M is pursuing, in collaboration with the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas led by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, is the Community Resilience Collaborative — a research and Extension-based program combining the resources of the Texas Sea Grant College Program and A&M College of Architecture Texas Target Communities. Plotkin said the goal of the partnership is to provide free planning, outreach and education assistance to coastal communities through helping low-capacity, low-resource and underrepresented communities to develop better planning.
Plotkin said she and her colleagues are particularly excited about the program because the cost of planning is a “really expensive endeavor if you hire private planners” to come into a community to help develop a plan.
“We want to help people for the long-term with mitigating hazards like this storm,” Plotkin said. “This is sort of our big response to all of the damages that we’ve seen and the needs that we believe are present in Texas.”
She said while the program’s focus is primarily on coastal communities, it also will extend “a few counties inland” to include the areas that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
“We typically work just along the coast, but we feel that it’s time for us to move a little bit further inland and extend our reach to those towns, cities and communities that were so heavily damaged by the storm,” Plotkin said. “The goal is to get our planners out into all of these counties and to help them adopt high-quality plans that will increase their resilience to hazards and reduce their risk in future events.”
Plotkin said the Texas Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Coastal Natural Hazards is another resource Texas Sea Grant created alongside the Texas General Land Office to give residents a practical guide to preparedness.
“There are so many things that this book provides information on,” Plotkin said. “It’s written for the layperson, so anybody can read it and get something from it to help themselves better prepare for future events. We know that there are going to be future storms, and the predictions are they’re going to grow in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years, so we really wanted to do our best to help people prepare and minimize their risk in these events.”