Tag Archive for: disaster mitigation

It’s Official: Harvey Flood Mitigation Is Taking Longer than World War II

Sunday, May 9th will mark a special day in the history of flood mitigation. We will have spent more time responding to Hurricane Harvey – and accomplishing little – than it took us to win World War II. December 7, 1941 to VJ Day on August 15, 1945 was 1349 days. On May 9, 2021, it will have been 1349 days since Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas and the Gulf Coast.

USS Arizona burning after forward magazine exploded, afternoon of December 7, 1941. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

What Happened to American Determination and Unity?

After Harvey, we stood united in a sense of grief, loss and determination. We vowed to implement measures that would make us more resilient against such storms in the future.

In the Lake Houston Area, we had a three part mitigation strategy:

  • More upstream detention to help offset future releases from Lake Conroe.
  • Dredging to eliminate blockages in the rivers.
  • Additional flood gates on Lake Houston so we can shed water as fast as Lake Conroe sends it downstream.

Less in. Faster through. More out.

Grading the Report Card

So how have we done?

We Need More Emphasis on Action

Imagine if we had still been studying an appropriate response to Pearl Harbor after 1349 Days. Somehow, we’ve confused studying problems with fixing them. Thought has become disconnected from action, or worse, substituted for it. This is not America’s finest hour.

It’s not that we can’t mitigate flooding problems. It’s that we’re not organized to do so in a timely way. We study these things endlessly. We value perfection more than protection.

We have compounded a natural disaster with:

  • “Paralysis through analysis”
  • Divided responses on the federal, state and local levels that have no central coordinator
  • Contradictory priorities between upstream and downstream interests
  • Complex, often contradictory, organizational requirements.

We CAN Be the Solution

We need to re-engineer business processes to focus on what matters:

  1. Helping people rebuild their homes, businesses and infrastructure…
  2. And reducing the risk of future disasters…
  3. In the least amount of time possible.

That’s it. It’s that simple. The first two are clear statements of intent to unify purpose. And the third is a simple goal by which everyone involved can measure individual efforts.

In the coming days, I will publish a series of articles on how to streamline the business processes built up around flood mitigation and disaster relief. One will be authored by George P. Bush, the state’s highest disaster relief official. And another will be anonymous to allow several people to speak freely and frankly.

My goal is to stimulate a public dialog that can help us get closer to the goals listed above.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/7/2021

1347 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Declared Federal Disaster Area in Wake of Imelda; State Taking Control of Disaster Mitigation Funding

On October 1st, Governor Greg Abbott sent a disaster-request letter to President Trump in response to the damage caused by Tropical Storm Imelda. The 31-page letter to President Trump lays out the case for Federal aid. It also includes an impressive catalog of storm-related damages.

The thirteen counties impacted by Tropical Storm Imelda (Imelda) are still recovering from previous disasters, including Hurricane Harvey. The population of the counties affected by Imelda exceeds 7.59 million people. That represents more than a quarter of the state’s population.

Six Counties Declared Disaster Area

Abbott requested a Presidential Disaster Declaration for the six counties in the Gulf Coast region that sustained severe flooding. Today, the President granted Governor Abbott’s request.

That means Individual Assistance for those in Chambers, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, and Orange counties will now become available. The Governor’s press release states that “Individual Assistance includes up to $35,500 per household for damages sustained during the severe weather.”

“This means that even if people did not have flood insurance, they may receive financial aid and low-cost SBA loans,” said Kaaren Cambio, staff assistant for Congressman Dan Crenshaw.

GLO Designated to Lead Disaster Mitigation Efforts

In a separate statement, the Governor announced that Commissioner George P. Bush and the Texas General Land Office will lead the State’s comprehensive disaster mitigation program. Bush will direct more than $4 billion in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant for Mitigation (CDBG-MIT).

The program will prioritize large-scale, regional projects that increase the state’s resilience to disasters statewide, protect lives and mitigate against future hurricanes and other natural disasters. Bush says he will focus on projects that benefit the most Texans. That means “prioritizing regional partnerships to protect Texans from future storms.”

On August 23, 2019, HUD released mandatory rules for the use of more than $4.3 billion in funding for mitigation projects. They covered money appropriated by Congress on February 9, 2018. Before the GLO could begin drafting a state action plan, those rules had to be published in the Federal Register. The GLO has already begun drafting the plan. It should take approximately nine months or more to complete, at which time, the GLO can send it to HUD for approval.

In total, HUD allocated $4,383,085,000 in CDBG-MIT funds to Texas. Altogether, 140 Texas counties are eligible for some part of this allocation of funding for 2015, 2016, and 2017 (Hurricane Harvey) disasters.

ABC13 Says Choice of GLO Was Response to Slow Pace of Recovery

Ted Oberg of ABC13 News reported today that Abbott tapped the GLO because the City of Houston and Harris County were not moving fast enough with their flood mitigation efforts. The article’s headline says, “Slow pace costs Houston, Harris County control of flood money.” It begins, “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken notice of Houston’s slow-moving progress with its Harvey recovery program.”

“Houston and Harris County’s lack of movement on Harvey housing recovery is the reason the city and county will not get a direct allocation. Victims need this money. That’s why this will go through GLO,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman told 13 Investigates’ Ted Oberg.

In the Mayoral Debate on Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that the city had received $1.3 billion for home repair and recovery.

Oberg reported in June, 2019, that only four people received housing aid as of that date, despite private companies being paid millions to operate the program. Oberg says that the City’s latest figures show that since then, only an additional 11 people have received financial assistance, despite more than 16,400 homeowners expressing interest in it. 

As of August 1, of the 4,900 people that the City invited to apply for its federally-funded Homeowner Assistance Programs, less than half submitted an application.

Reaction from Local Officials

According to Oberg, Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “It’s on them now.”

Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement to 13 Investigates. “While we’re disappointed in Governor Abbott’s decision to run this program out of Austin instead of providing us local control, we’ll continue to work as a team to make sure we apply every single federal dollar available towards building a stronger, safer Harris County.”

Questions Still Remain

It’s still unclear to me at this hour how the GLO’s focus on large scale mitigation projects affects individual homeowners seeking financial assistance. They seem to tap two different pots of money. But they also seem to have been conflated by the reporting on this issue. Let’s hope that the state can speed things up on both fronts. Flooded homeowners need help immediately, not three years after the disaster.

More than a dozen homes on Dunnam Road near Tailor Gulley flooded for the second time in four months during Imelda. The owner of the home on the left told me he did not apply for federal assistance.

Need to Re-engineer Disaster Mitigation is NOT in Question

As I’ve stated before, we need to re-engineer the whole disaster mitigation business. Sometimes fewer people, not more, can get results faster.

Harris County’s Final Harvey report stated: “Based on house flooding assessments, the estimated total number of homes flooded within Harris County is 154,170.” That only 15 homeowners have received HUD financial assistance more than two years after Harvey is an indictment of the whole crazy system that has evolved.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/3/2019

766 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 15 since Imelda

Log Jam Finally Broken on Long-Awaited Regional San Jacinto River Basin Study

In March last year, the San Jacinto River Authority, City of Houston, Montgomery County and Harris County proposed a river basin study of the San Jacinto.

Scope of River Basin Study

The scope includes evaluating the cost effectiveness and feasibility of a variety of flood mitigation projects. They include additional gates for the Lake Houston Dam, additional dredging and additional upstream detention – all important for the Lake Houston Area.

West Fork Sand Mine Complex inundated by Harvey.

But the scope also includes many other potential projects. The $2+ million grant request to FEMA covered the entire San Jacinto River basin including the East and West Forks.

10 Months of Delays

Then the grant request fell into a great black hole. Nine months went by while FEMA pondered and tweaked the 15-page grant application. Finally, FEMA was ready to write the check in December…when the government shut down.

Finally, a Green Light

Today, however, I got news that FEMA finally green-lighted the project through TDEM, the Texas Division of Emergency Management. TDEM coordinates all FEMA requests for the State of Texas.

This will benefit multiple counties throughout entire basin. It’s not often this many governmental entities come together to impact an area this large.

Residents trying to escape as Harvey's floodwaters rose
Residents of Kingwood Village Estates trying to escape as Harvey’s floodwaters rose. 12 residents died as a result of injuries sustained during evacuation or the stress from losing their homes.

All parties have reportedly signed inter-local agreements (ILAs) already. An ILA is like a contract between governmental entities.

Next Steps Before Kickoff

Next steps: Harris County Flood Control will present details of the grant package to Harris County Commissioners Court at the Court’s Feb 12th meeting.

Following court acceptance of the grant, HCFCD hopes to obtain Commissioner’s Court approval of the agreement with the consulting firms that will execute the river basin study. 

All those involved hope for an official study kickoff in late February/early March.

Among many other things, study will examine sedimentation and its role in flooding.

For More Information

Harris County Flood Control is currently working to update its website. When additional information becomes available later this week, you will be able to view it at: https://www.hcfcd.org/hurricane-harvey/hurricane-harvey-kingwood-information/upper-san-jacinto-river-regional-watershed-flood-mitigation-plan/

Study to Take 18 Months

Originally, the study was to have taken approximately a year. However, additional FEMA requirements mean it will now take 18 months. That means we should be looking at recommendations 3 years after Harvey. Then the partners will submit additional grants to FEMA for projects that result from the study.

See my previous editorial comments about the state of disaster mitigation. “Time is the enemy of disaster mitigation”. You can quote me on that.

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 29, 2019

518 Days after Hurricane Harvey