Case Study: Hurricane Harvey’s effect on the State of Texas

Geographical and Political Background

Disasters, whether natural or human-made, have been part of the human cycle for millennia. Natural disasters, in particular, have over the years emerged as the most common type of emergency affecting most people around the world. We presently live in a society built around institutions that have been tasked with ensuring that the welfare of the citizenry is looked into whenever such situations present themselves. Governments have therefore emerged as the first line of defense providing assistance to those caught up in such cases (Kislow, 2008, p. 54). Over the years, the national politics of countries affected by these disasters have emerged as forces that shape response while helping to restore normalcy. Through various government agencies, these programs are implemented in areas hit hardest by these difficult times. In the United States, for instance, the president plays an integral role in assessing the impact of the devastation caused and eventually declaring it a disaster. It is from this point that efforts are coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to probe the magnitude of the disaster and provide immediate response in the form of aid (Burns, 2007, p. 80). Such was the case during Hurricane Harvey, one of the wettest tropical cyclones to ever make landfall in the United States hinterland, affecting Texas.

Early Warning Signs and Evacuation Orders

Warning signs provided by meteorologists were conclusive in indicating that the impending storm was unlike any other every experienced in the history of the United States and a cause of great concern. The primary reason for this was the destructive nature of the storm and the predictions made on its devastation across the mainland as soon as it made landfall. As a category three hurricane with winds reaching speeds of up to 110mph, it was bound to affect individuals living on low lying basis. In 500 years, it would prove to be the wettest tropical storm ever experienced in the United States and had the potential to cause significant harm to the State of Texas and all counties in it. Local leaders such as Joe McComb, Mayor of Corpus Christi, were vocal in urging the residents to vacate the cities and move to storm shelters. He acknowledged the importance of taking the necessary precautionary measures and forced the residents in these localities to heed his call to evacuate.  Most of the individuals caught up in this disaster were not willing to fully cooperate with due to the businesses that were still running in the area and their attachment to their property. Evacuation would be done voluntarily, but authorities did not rule out enforcing a mandatory order to ensure that lives were saved

Mitigation Measures

The possibility of being hit by a hurricane has been a reality that many living along the coastal areas in the United States have had to contend with. Texans were well aware of this fact and the reason why necessary steps had to be taken to ensure that the effects of the storm surge and landfall were minimal and the landfall affecting. These measures were put in place to ensure that the risk of damage or destruction done was lowered to a manageable threshold that was easy to manage, even when it was common knowledge that it would be one of the worst cases ever reported. Preparation began with people being receiving information from the Federal Government on the impending danger and how they could prepare better for this situation. A state of preparedness was vital as it was responsible for raising the state of awareness among most of the area residents. It would, therefore, be easy for them to make the right decision after gaining a holistic view of the dangers posed by the storm surge and subsequent flood.  The preparation was vital to these mitigation measures as individuals would know the essentials that they had to carry and the location of hurricane shelters as soon as the Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

FEMA and State Government’s Preparedness and Response Efforts

The Federal Government and FEMA had already been briefed of the potential devastation that Hurricane Harvey would have in Texas and had to prepare for its arrival. FEMA notably played a massive role in ensuring that it pre-positioned supplies and its team around the state ready to spring into action. Personnel from FEMA would work closely with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) to familiarise themselves with the environment and know which areas they needed to address when the tropical cyclone made landfall. Moreover, President Trump was instrumental in the responding to the threat posed by declaring Hurricane Harvey a disaster with personnel from different agencies being dispatched beforehand to aid the teams that were already on the ground. The National Guard was instrumental in preparation for the disaster and had to deploy in numbers close to 32, 000 across the State of Texas (“Federal Government Continues Response to Hurricane Harvey: |,” 2017). A speedy response to the danger posed was a clear indication that the United States Federal Government was not leaving anything to chance and was ready to marshal all its resources to ensure that lives were saved. Their duty was first to ensure that individuals had been evacuated from their homes in preparation for the storm and prepare to offer rescue efforts meant in areas that were deemed impassable.

Overall Coordination and Communication Strategy played a crucial role in aiding those affected as individuals now had a chance to make applications for assistance using the FEMA mobile app. The strategy involved these individuals making requests that would then be received at the FEMA headquarters and personnel sent to these areas to respond to these distress calls (“How Hurricane Harvey Changed Social Media Disaster Relief,” 2017). The general idea was to provide a system that would allow those affected to use everyday devices to send messages that would enable them to receive help. Power was out in the whole Texas area and the reason why it was necessary to create a mobile application that was easy to use and fast in passing important information. Moreover, it was in two languages, Spanish and English, making it useable to people from a much wider demographic.  A much comprehensive coverage ensured that communications on vital information would be received in time, enabling those affected receive the much-needed assistance (“Be Ready! Six Steps to Take Before a Natural Disaster Hits Your Communications,” 2017). Presently 793,000 households have successfully made applications for assistance, with the responders on the ground being able to rescue an estimated 122, 332 people and 5236 pets. Texans then received funds from the Federal Government, numbering 1.5 billion together with flood insurance and assistance grants.

Stakeholders Involved

Although the Federal Government and FEMA were viewed as lead players in these efforts, other agencies were critical stakeholders participated in offering response efforts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was responsible for making various assessments after the storm. These tests included evaluations done on drinking and wastewater. The Department of Energy (DOE) that was tasked with restoring power in Texas also aiding in search and rescue missions.  Furthermore, the Department of Justice played a central role in carrying out missions that would greatly benefit all those who had been affected by the hurricane. Evacuation s, patient movements and strategic airlifts were all carried out by this group to ensure that their support made an impact on victims. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) was also responsible for opening recovery centers that would offer their services to all those businesses that had been affected. These loans would allow business owners rebuild their enterprises and get back on their feet. Air emergency services were provided mainly by the Civil Air Control as it was the easiest way to transport aid to areas most affected. Most of the rescue missions undertaken involved the use of these aircraft and their crew which is one of the reasons why it was mostly successful. The Center for Medicaid provided immediate medical relief. It ensured that all survivors received the medical assistance required while also ensuring that the shelters had enough facilities to cater to their needs.

Difference in response to Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina struck at a time when authorities were ill-prepared to deal with a disaster of such magnitude. It was a blessing in disguise as it exposed the weaknesses that existed in the United States regarding responding to emergencies and also in understanding that bizarre accidents might occur. Reports were rife of firefighters wading in the water in New Orleans searching for survivors while other accounts painted a grim picture of the sorry state of communication in these selected areas (The United States, 2002, p. 56). It was this reason that FEMA took it upon itself to ensure the nation was adequately prepared if ever faced with such a situation. The first course of action was to provide that there was no bureaucracy in the deployment of troops to aid in the evacuation and rescue efforts. There was no need for pre-written military authorizations which made it easy for authorities to contact these men and women in uniform to provide aid (Nawal Atallah and Brennan Hoban, 2017). Such was the case when the Marine Corps Reserve’s of the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion came from San Antonio to aid Hurricane Harvey victims. Inflatable boats came in handy in enabling them to carry out their missions. FEMA also spent billions of dollars training individuals who would be potential first responders on how to create disaster plans that were workable. Frequent training of local officials was integral in ensuring that they coordinate with the Federal Government.

Forecasted Rehabilitation and Recovery Needs

A bipartisan request made to the House and Senate Appropriations by President Trump indicated that $29 billion was required to carry out rehabilitation and recovery missions. Out of this, $15.3 was approved to enable citizens of Texas to rebuild their lives. Additionally, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) went on to receive $10 billion that would allow it to rehabilitate structures destroyed and dredge navigational channels.

Approach I would Apply as a First Responder

As a first responder, I would involve more volunteers in the rescue missions to participate in assisting those affected.  It would be an opportune moment to ensure that various players are engaged and plans formulated to provide that everyone was back on their feet. A sense of community is essential if survivors are tom pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.

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