Monday, September 22, 2008

Ike in context

Although I'm still in Austin, I figure it's time to get back to blogging. For those of you who get this blog by email, you can find my personal (very mild) saga of Ike posted here - it was not emailed out. It sounds like today was "back to work" for most of Houston, but with traffic signals still a mess, I've heard a couple anecdotes that rush hours are more painful than usual (confirmed).

Now available are satellite images showing post-Ike Houston and beaches, which, not surprisingly, seem to have pushed back a bit in areas. Once you drill-down to a full-size pic, click on it again to zoom in. Hat tip to Cary.

For this post, I just want to pass along something I got on Ike in context from Jeff Moseley over at the Greater Houston Partnership:
One of the most important lessons we learn in school is making sure that when we read a text that it is placed into the proper context.

Ike roared through our community with Category 2 winds with a near meteorological record 80 mile wide eye. We regret the damage done to our neighbors' homes and property along the coast as well as to the beautiful Kemah and Galveston tourism districts.

The resilience of our people is amazing. Without power and with shortages of water, food, gasoline and other resources we have witnessed over and over neighbors helping neighbors and putting their shoulders to the task of cleaning up the debris. We should and will continue to focus on all areas of our region that received storm damage as well as what we can all do to collectively assist in rebuilding and getting these communities back into operation.
(aside: The NY Times has a nice piece on Houston's neighborly and charitable spirit after the hurricane: "Power Is Scarce, but Houston’s Spirit Isn’t Lacking")
As I am beginning to understand this storm's impact versus other storms and their impact here is an interesting context.


1. Although the technology of predicting powerful storms is still evolving, forecasters were correct this time in determining that there would be a need to evacuate designated surge areas. Relative to 3 years ago, when Rita blew into town, our community and state leaders were much more prepared and the evacuation of surge areas was night and day difference in comparison to its orderliness. Once again, Mayor White, Judge Emmett have proven role models for the nation in demonstrating how city and county government can work in tandem to maximize crisis management. Their regional counterparts of the surrounding cities and counties have also demonstrated equal abilities to serve the public's interests. Kudos to our regional leaders!

2. In 1983 Alicia's winds carried gravel from downtown roofs and caused a cascade of broken glass to fill downtown streets. A city ordinance was then passed banning gravel as a roofing material and making those towers with gravel switch. Fast forward 25 years--Ike's winds only impacted 1/2% of the 400,000 windows in downtown. Chase Tower was impacted the most and this was done most likely by a tornado which damaged the lower half of the southside. (Chase Tower has already covered all the windows that were broken and will be fully operational in a few days).
Another aside: Alica was the same year I moved back to Houston from Louisiana and started high school. One of its tornadoes touched down in the pipeline right-of-way behind our house (I'm pretty sure I heard lawn furniture hitting the second floor), but we escaped with only the loss of a single roof shingle.
3. In 2001 Alison brought heavy rains and then turned around and brought even more heavy rains back to the downtown area. By some guess the rainfall was 4-1/2 " per hour and the hydrology of city streets is to have storm drainage for 1/2" per hour. Downtown, St. Joseph's Hospital and the Texas Medical Center suffered from severe Alison flooding. Contrast that to Ike--even though we didn't get Alison levels of rainfall, we did get 5-10" Saturday with and additional 5-9" early Sunday morning. With all that rainfall, check this out---NO FLOODING of downtown, Texas Medical Center, NASA or Galleria. The flooding that our region did suffer was due to storm surge. The good news is that Ike's surge was approximately half of the predicted level (13.5' vs. 25'). Prior to Alison and then as a result of Alison, the city and Texas Medical Center have placed an emphasis on storm drainage. Today's downtown storm sewers can handle 3" hour of rainfall.

4. Centerpoint and Entergy today have mutual assistance agreements in place. David McClanahan informed me that our region has received 7,000 mutual assistance workers to compliment the 4,000 linemen and contractors already working in the Centerpoint service district. This is a recent development that has allowed us to enjoy convoys from across the US.
We've come a long way. As bad as it was, it could have been much worse.

Update: Another Ike pass along:
A Message from Elliot Gershenson, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, Tuesday Memo from the President & CEO
September 23, 2008

Like so many non-profits, IM has been out of power but still kept going, serving the community. It's hard to believe that it is possible to serve so many seniors and refugees without computer power and phone service, but somehow we have done so. Just as so many other first-responder organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army and government agencies like the City of Houston, Harris County and FEMA have stepped up. We'll likely hear stories about failed efforts, but the true heart and guts of our city needs to be recognized. There are so many stories of bravery, dedication and pure visionary action that are worthy of telling.

There's the story of dozens of churches and other faith groups who have been housing evacuees from Galveston and other places in their gyms and sanctuaries - providing food, shelter and clothing. Much of these expenses will be borne by them. Certainly the time and talent of their core volunteers and staff is being diverted from other programs - all because the people of Houston are heroes.

There's the story about crime - not the one we would expect - but how low the crime statistics have been.

People in Houston have learned how to drive! Somehow, with all those lights out, people have slowed down and let the other guy take a turn.

I keep hearing that people connected with their neighbors, many for the first time. And now as the electricity is coming back on and the garage openers begin working again, it feels like we're losing something very special.

I learned about one church's senior pastor who received a phone call from someone he didn't know living back east. The caller said they could not find their elderly parents and were desperate to find out if they were ok. So this pastor got in his car late that night, with a load of food, water and ice and drove across town to find the parents. He drove up to the house and knocked on the door. They were fine, but without electricity or phone, so he called their kids on his cell phone and said "here, someone wants to talk to you." After the call the parents said they didn't need anything but across the street there was someone who really looked like he did. So the pastor gave all of his food, water and ice to the neighbor. The next day he came back with more food and water only to find that the neighbor had distributed what he received the night before to his neighbors. The church volunteers returned each day until the electricity came back.

The president of my synagogue bought Sabbath dinner for 1,250 families who he thought might need a kosher meal. In the end a number of synagogues and the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston backed him up so that he did not need to take this financial burden on his own. Only about 500 families came forward to receive these meals, so in the end he and my synagogue donated enough food to the Houston Food Bank and the Jewish Community Center to feed 700 families and seniors.

I could go on - but I think you already know what I am talking about. You've likely witnessed this yourself and have been amazed by the grace that has been shown by Houston and all of our leadership.



At 8:03 AM, September 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the biggest lesson to get from this storm is that it shows a what population that has a more entrepreneurial spirit than entitlement mentality is more resilient in recovery.

Another point that is usually missed is that much of the damage on the Bolivar Peninsular and Galveston Island are very much similar to the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina.

Houston itself fared very well. The damage is minimal to the city. Down trees and power outages are just inconveniences. They can't stop you from moving forward with your life. Having your home completely obliterated is another story.

At 9:40 AM, September 23, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>I think the biggest lesson to get from this storm is that it shows a what population that has a more entrepreneurial spirit than entitlement mentality is more resilient in recovery.

Give me a break. Do you really believe that garbage? What this storm shows is that a community that is 40 feet above sea level fares better than one that is 20 feet below.

At 8:07 PM, September 23, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

Until the last few days I never realized how effective the HOV lanes really are. The traffic on the freeways has been horrible. Our transportation figures need to take note.

At 9:55 PM, September 23, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

While the HOV lanes are definitely a big part of it, I think an even bigger part might be everybody avoiding surface streets because of signals out, much less in sync.

At 10:56 PM, September 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one of the biggest lessons is what happens to a community that loses power when it is almost completely dependent on the automobile for transport. Thankfully, I live in an area where walking is at least an option but for the vast majority of people in Houston, without power and gasoline, they are literally stranded.

Another shocking lesson from this storm is how out-of-date this city's power distribution system is. The two main areas that had power after the storm (downtown and the medical center) have underground power lines. Most large cities in the US buried their lines years ago. Houston still almost completely depends on polls and so we lose power for weeks. All in the city that holds itself out as the energy capital of the world.

Another example of what happens when you try to fund a city infrastructure on the cheap. If Houston wants to be a world class city we need a world class infrastructure system.

At 12:12 AM, September 25, 2008, Blogger Feral Writers' Project said...

Simmer down, common_sense.


"While underground lines are not subject to the same wind and ice storm risks as above-ground lines, underground lines could be damaged by floods.

'They are not by any stretch impervious to the elements,' Legge says. 'There's just different elements.'

Outages for underground lines also last longer than outages for above-ground lines. It takes longer to find and repair underground infrastructure, Legge explains.

Following the 2002 ice storm that blanketed most of North Carolina and its power lines, the utilities commission's Public Staff researched the prospect of burying distribution lines. The Public Staff estimated at the time that converting all distribution lines in the state would cost $41 billion and would take 25 years to complete. The impact to customer bills would be a 125 percent increase.

The Edison Electric Institute in 2006 released a study on burying power lines that concluded that the cost of converting overhead lines to underground would be roughly $1 million per mile - nearly 10 times the cost of an overhead power line. Legge says those costs have likely increased."

It's also unfortunate to generalize about the country's major cities. I've lived in at least two of the five densest cities in the country, dense enough to have subway TOD, and even there underground lines were subeconomical a half-block off of the strip of heaviest development. Our infrastructure fits our typical use of it.

At 8:25 AM, September 25, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Great material, slinkydog. I reposted it to the debate on HAIF:

Comment #55.

At 1:08 PM, September 25, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kjb434 said...
"Down trees and power outages are just inconveniences."

Obviously you haven't seen the destruction in some areas northeast of the city. You think it's an "inconvenience" when three 135 foot red oak trees over 400 years old land on your house? They've had seven homes bulldozed on two streets alone at a subdivision in an old growth forest just near Kingwood alone. I saw a car folded like a taco around another and watched another guy fall 47 feet out of a tree trying to cut the other side of the 120 foot tall, 120 year old pine off the other side of his neighbor's house and broke both legs. Tell what an "inconvenience" it is to the thousands of retired citizens who live up there in their 80's who are out clearing their own yards in the heat and the flocks of mosquitoes while trying to keep their medicine and special foods iced down.

At 7:18 AM, September 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So does this mean that all that work to time the lights a few years ago is lost? I hope not. Living in Dallas now, I know how senselessly frustrating a city with untimed lights can be!

At 11:45 AM, September 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Midtown did indeed flood during Ike. No water in my home, but only about 2 inches to spare.

At 6:38 AM, October 02, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats from New England ..
One bad hurricane per decade! Well...then there are BLIZZARDS...


Post a Comment

<< Home