Every storm that affects Gulf Coast residents is a learning experience for scientists and emergency planners. Such was the case in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devestated New Orleans, and the threat from Hurricane Rita turned a major freeway into a parking lot from southeast Texas residents trying to flee.
This spring, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed legislation to create the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster, or SSPEED, Center. Phil Bedient, an engineering professor at Rice University, is the center’s director. He told attendees at a training seminar that the need is crucial for timely and accurate data for emergency procedures to be successful both in terms of flooding and evacuation:
“A lot of new technologies have greatly expanded and revolutionized our field, the field of storm prediction. G-I-S, satellite information and advanced sensoring information, LIDAR, for advanced topography, radar rainfall data, advanced cameras, all of this information explosion is assisting us in terms of improving our ability to deal with storm prediction.”
Harris County is actively engaged in partnerships that address obtaining, sharing and applying new technology and information in serving residents. County Judge Ed Emmett:
“When a storm actually comes, we’ll see what people do. But, what I hear all the time is, ‘Oh I got out there on the highway with Rita and I’m not doing that again. That was a mess’. Well, we didn’t have contra-flow, we didn’t have the fuel depots, we didn’t have the topping off of service stations here in advance. All those things are now in place, and we didn’t have comfort stations along the evacuation routes. It will be better but, at the same time, we don’t want people evacuating who are not in danger of water.”
Director Bedient says they plan other SSPEED Center seminars throughout hurricane season for decision makers who reside up and down the coast, areas prone to severe storm activity:
“The SSPEED Center is unique in that we’re trying to bring all of this expertise under one umbrella, so that there is a sense of information coming through one source, available then, to decision makers to make better, more informed and hopefully, more life saving type decisions when these storms hit.”
Funding from the Texas Office of Emergency Management is to make it a fully operational center beginning in the Spring of next year.
Pat Hernandez, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News