Coordinated, fast action by the City, Harris County Flood Control, and concerned citizens reduced flood risk for many homes earlier this month. Together, they eliminated many blockages in drains and ditches that likely prevented many homes from flooding during the storms from May 3 through May 10. Perhaps we can learn from the experience and organize neighborhood groups that spot and report developing situations before they get out of hand and cause floods. Here’s what happened.
Triple Whammy: Three Major Storms
On Friday, May 3, late in the afternoon, heavy rains combined with high winds and possible tornadoes downed trees throughout Kingwood. Tree debris littered the ground everywhere. The City worked throughout the weekend to clear streets and drains. But large amounts of debris remained in yards and along greenbelts.
Then on Tuesday, more intense rains hit and flushed much of that debris into drains and ditches.
- The City again sprang into action; Public Works sent crews out to inspect the storm drains for blockages. Camera and clean up crews have been here ever since.
- Harris County Flood Control also sent crews out to clear ditches. Due to erosion and high winds, many trees had fallen into the ditches and were creating blockages.
Sadly, many homes did flood on Tuesday. The vast majority of those were near a massive construction site that altered drainage.
But had it not been for fast, coordinated action by the City, County and Citizens, many more homes elsewhere might have flooded on Friday, May 10, when Round Three of heavy rains hit the Lake Houston Area.
Example of How Things Can Go Right
Jennifer Coulter, a Kings Forest resident, reported a small creek totally blocked behind her home. The Coulters flooded badly in Harvey and have been hyper vigilant ever since. Jennifer detected a blockage in the ditch behind her home AFTER Tuesday’s storm on May 7. Here’s what it looked like. Harris County Flood Control sent a team out to clear the blockage BEFORE the Friday storm.
When notified, HCFCD immediately dispatched a crew. They managed to clear the blockage before the next storm hit. It took about an hour. Here’s what the same ditch looked like when they left.
A Minor but Important Success
I emailed Coulter after the Friday storm to see how she did. Her response: “Dry here. Looked like the backyard drained well, too. Huge sigh of relief from this address!”
This wasn’t the only success story before Friday’s rains. I’m aware of at least five similar blockages removed before the storm. No homes flooded near those areas that I am aware of…at least as a result of reported blockages.
That’s not to say that no homes flooded anywhere. I am sure some did and that is tragic. But this example underscores the need for better identification of issues and coordination in communicating them.
Importance of the Right Five
Management consultants often talk about the “Right Five” as a key element of success. Success happens when the Right People, get the Right Information, at the Right Time, at the Right Place, in the Right Format.
In this case, residents knew:
- The Right People to contact (Flood Control, not the City, and the right people AT Flood Control)
- The Right Information to give them (description of problem so they could send crews with the right equipment, photos of what they would encounter, everything they needed to take immediate action).
- The Right Place to send them (GPS coordinates, nearest street intersections, and nearest access points for greenbelts).
- The Right Format (easy to read and understand; clear; concise; digital for easy transmission to crews in field).
- The Right Time (before the storm)
While we are at it, we should also give ourselves a pat on the back. Residents helped clear drains and ditches before the storm, too. That’s not only our right; it’s our duty. The City needs our help. Their crews can’t be everywhere at once; Houston covers a lot of territory.
Organizing to Reduce Flood Risk
How can we learn from our failures and replicate our successes? Last week, the Kings Forest Board of Directors voted to establish a permanent Flood Committee with two objectives:
- Raise awareness among residents of issues that contribute to flooding
- Identify and communicate problems we can’t resolve on our own to the Right People at the City and County.
In essence, the idea is to create a group like Neighborhood Watch or Crime Stoppers, but focused on flooding: Clog Stoppers! People who can spot problems and report them before they cause flooding.
Major examples of things that contribute to flooding:
- Yard waste swept into sewers or dumped on greenbelts
- Dead or dying trees about to fall into ditches
- Not cutting deadfall into small pieces [large ones block culverts; max 2′ pieces recommended]
- Irresponsible construction practices
- Sand mining in floodways behind inadequate dikes
- People altering drainage illegally
I hope the other community, trail, and commercial associations can form similar committees. Working together through KSA or some other grass roots organization, we can reduce flood risk for everyone. We can also help improve government efficiency by getting the right people, the right information, in the right place, at the right time, in the right format.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/20/2019
629 Days since Hurricane Harvey