11 Preparedness Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey

11 Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey

Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

As Texas recovers from the largest multi-day rainfall event in history including wind and surge damage from Harvey’s landfall, let’s take a look at preparedness lessons learned from one of the largest flood events ever to face the region.

What Happened

On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Cost near Rockport, Texas at a Category 4 Hurricane.  The winds and surge decimated the Rockport, TX area and locations nearest to the center of the storm landfall.  After landfall, rapid weakening ensued bringing Harvey down to Tropical Storm force.

Soon after, Harvey stalled over the Texas coastline bringing massive amounts of rainfall to the State located on the “dirty side” of the storm.  Harvey continued slow movement north east after a few days, going back out into the Gulf and making a final landfall on the Louisiana coast on August 29th, 2017.

Harvey Total Rainfall

Credit: NOAA

During this timeframe, Harvey dropped over 20 inches of rainfall over a 15,000-square mile area in the State of Texas.  This is equivalent to the entire states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rode Island being covered simultaneously in almost 2 feet of water.  The Houston major metropolitan area was severely impacted, with the entire area receiving over 40 inches of water in a 4-day period.  Some areas received upwards of 51 inches of rain (recorded just north of Baytown, TX).

Residential and commercial flooding took place across the region.  Many major roadways were overrun with feet of water making ground transportation inoperable across the area for both the public and first responders without high water vehicles. In some areas, boat was the only accessible means of transportation for rescue.

A massive rescue effort took place between civilians (both in and out of state) as well as first responders.  Shelters were opened up across the region for persons who had no place to go after being rescued from the storm.  In the Houston area alone, the NRG Mega Shelter capable of housing up to 10, 000 people was opened for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.  Only this time it was to support its own neighbors.  In addition, the George R Brown Convention Center was also opened as a shelter which was capable of housing 5,000 people.  Red Cross also opened multiple smaller shelters across the region.

Lessons Learned

In preparedness, it is imperative to take a critical look as incidents that occur and examine what worked and what didn’t.  Without this cycle, we are not truly preparing ourselves to the best of our ability.  Let’s take a look as a few lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey.

Harvey Store ShelvesDon’t Forget the Corner Stores

While grocery stores quickly run out of goods, don’t forget to think outside the box.  Many corner stores and drugstores are overlooked in the supply rush prior to a storm.  Don’t forget to check them if you do have to make one last run for supplies prior to landfall.

Don’t Buy Bottled Water, Use Your Tap!

Many people rush out to buy bottled water at the store just prior to an emergency.   Not only are there better ways to store bulk water, but it is always one of the first things to go at the store.  Get bulk storage containers and fill them with your tap water prior to the storm.

WaterBOBWhile 55 Gallon food grade drums work, we prefer something a little more portable.  WaterBricks or Aqua-Tainer’s work great and store 3-5 gallons at a time.  We prefer WaterBrick as they are stackable and easier to carry at 3.7 gallons (28 lbs) as opposed to the Aqua-Tainer’s 7-gallon capacity (56 lbs).  You can also use the 5-gallon refillable water cooler bottles and fill them at your tap or the local grocery store, however, depending on the brand, these can be difficult to stack.

A WaterBOB is a great option to have in a pinch to keep potable water in one of your bathtubs. For the price, they are great to keep a few on hand for a single use.  Especially if you have limited storage space for water.

Being Prepared Brings Peace of Mind

Hurricane Harvey provided very little warning to Texans along the coast.  While it was known that the storm was expected to form; the landfall location, strength, and severity of impacts, were unknown until within 24 hours of landfall, leaving limited time for last minute preparations.

Preparing day to day rather than just prior to a disaster allows for peace of mind in the light of a critical situation.  The reassurance that you have what your family needs to get by without having to make a run to a store can’t be put into words.  Having an emergency bag ready to go for each person in case you have to be rescued bring a little peace of mind in an emergency when you are trying to wrangle children and stay together.

Mass Evacuation is Not Always the Safer Option

Hurricane Harvey covered a region the size of multiple states.  An evacuation works well when people can leave an impacted area and go to another area to seek refuge.  In the case of Harvey, the impact footprint was so large, the number impacted was so great, it made a mass evacuation option virtually inoperable.

Harvey impacted over 6.5 million people including a number of metropolitan areas. It would have been virtually impossible to get this number of people away from the storm impacts before landfall, even if it was known exactly where the rainfall would be seen.  A number of people would have been stuck on roadways which saw life threatening winds or flooding and been much more vulnerable than in their homes.

Water Is a Fickle B@$%h

Harvey Sediment

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Rainfall is a tough aspect of a storm to model.  While there is some guidance, the exact where, when, and how much is nearly impossible to nail down until the rain actually falls.  How some storms build and “train” over a specific location is unknown in many cases until it starts to happen.  However, once the rain starts to fall, the impacts are known and can be extremely devastating.  Water does not forgive and will go where it wants to go.  If it gets high enough, it will penetrate with vengeance and leave very little at its level untouched.  Keep your memorable items and preps as high as possible if flooding is a risk in your area.

Floodwater Isn’t Clean or Safe

Many think floodwaters are just a big rain puddle that’s ok to play in, but that’s far from the case.  It is a combination of rain, sewage, chemicals, debris, sand, silt, insects, and wildlife.  It is filled with bacteria and is not a pool for swimming.  Check out this CNN article showing the results of laboratory testing of Harvey floodwater conducted by A&B Labs in Houston.

Fire Ant Raft in Harvey

Fire Ant Raft in Harvey – Pearland, TX (Credit: Brant Kelly / Flickr)

Have children allergic to insect such as ants?  They float in clusters with the flood water along with other insects and wildlife.  When you are flooded in on an island, there is little help to alleviate the life threating effects of anaphylactic shock if they are stung.  Rescue may be delayed or not possible and 911 is overwhelmed.

Floodwaters run with strong currents near drainage ditches, inlets, and bayous.  They can be fatal even for boat-goers if in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Your Attic Is Not a Safe Space, it is a Coffin

Let’s think about this for a minute.  You climb into an enclosed space where the only easy way out is at the bottom when the water is rising.  The roof of the attic is designed to keep water out.  Many climbed into their attic to avoid going out into the rain while getting away from the rising flood water thinking they can just cut their way through the roof with a hatchet or axe.  Soon to need rescuing by responders when they were available.  If cell phones went down (which they did not) there would be no way to let responders know you were there.

While it is possible, cutting through a roof is not easy, even with the right tools, ask any firefighter who has had to do it.  You are much safer going outside and climbing a ladder on to your roof.  And from there, although wet, you have a much better likelihood of being seen by rescuers.  You also have a lot smaller risk of being trapped and facing conditions such as drowning, dehydration, or heat stroke that you would in your attic space.  Keep in mind, temperatures rose back into the mid-90’s making for a 100-140 degree attic soon after Harvey’s passing.

Your attic is a coffin if you become trapped. Think of it that way.

“Preppers” Are No Longer Crazy

Unfortunately, it takes a major disaster for many to realize that preparing to be self-reliant for a given period of time is not an outlandish idea.  Even the national news media woke up and started to preach the concept.  If you are looking to spread the word and improve preparedness in your community, the next few months is a good time to start.

True Leadership Shines in Disasters

Kid Rescue

Credit: Defense.gov

In the wake of disasters, true leadership shines.  From a leader of a first responder rescue team, to a neighbor who organizes a donations hub, or a business owner who organizes a temporary shelter for those impacted in his community.  True leaders arise from the masses or are reaffirmed in the community.  Meet these people and stay in contact as they can help you to better prepare your community or business.

Survivors Guilt is Real, But Its Ok

Many people I spoke with following the storm, who were not directly impacted, had the same question on their mind; “I’m glad that it wasn’t me, but I feel guilty for saying that.  Why not me?”. The feeling of Survivors Guilt is common following life threatening or life altering events, and its ok.  Here are a few links on the topic from other sources (What’s Your Grief?, Jason Foundation & E4Health, GoodTherapy.org).  Be sure to take care of yourself, get plenty of sleep and get regular exercise.  Direct those thoughts to help others.  Volunteer at a local shelter or donate time or money to those recovering from the event. However, if you are concerned about your thoughts and feelings following a disastrous event, seek the help of a qualified medical professional.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors is Truly a Blessing

Friend Help

Credit: Defense.gov

In Texas, we are resilient and help each other.  During Hurricane Harvey, it shined.  Being part of many disasters, I can truly say that this one touched people in a way that many disasters do not.  Almost everyone in the region was either flooded or knew someone who was impacted within their friend or family network.

Immediately after the storm, civilians got out their boats to help first responders with the rescue efforts. First responders from across the state came to support local resources who were strapped thin.  Local businesses donated supplies to responders and those in need.

As the waters receded. neighbors in non-flooded areas who just saw high water in the streets, took their tools, put them in their car, and went to another person in a neighborhood that wasn’t so lucky.  Many helping people they had never met before.

There were lines of volunteers at local shelters to support those who had no place to stay.  Churches organized local donation drives or work crews to help people in the community recover.  Be it stripping out homes or other clean-up work.  Race, ethnicity, nationality, color, or religion didn’t matter.

In Texas, “Love Thy Neighbor as Yourself” (Mark 12:31) is taken to heart.  Lets hope it spreads to other areas of our country.

Find your Gaps

Bottom line, know the hazards in your area, plan ahead, and help your neighbors.  You never know when someone may have to come help you “muck out” your home.  If you are looking for looking for gaps in your hurricane preps or are just getting it all together, were here to help.  Download our free Hurricane Preparedness Checklist here.

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