Updated June 6, 2012:
Mayor Annise Parker says the tool will constantly find new users because of the county’s population is so mobile:
“People from all over the country and all over the world continue to move here on a regular basis. We know people in this region move internally fairly frequently. So you have a lot of new folks who’ve never experienced a hurricane event. And you have a lot of Houstonians that their risk situation has changed. What we want is for people to know what their situation is. Don’t wait until something happens. Get an assessment today.”
From June 5, 2012:
Hurricane Rita looms like a bad memory for local emergency planners.
Rice political scientist Bob Stein says the problem was that people were overcome by fear and didn’t understand the actual risk level for their particular homes.
“Basically what we observed in Rita was that a large number of people made evacuations that they did not need to make, made them prematurely and created what was gridlock and far more detrimental and costly than the actual hurricane itself.”
During Hurricane Ike, officials used zip codes to warn people who needed to evacuate, but Stein says zip codes areas are still too big.
“We tell people there are hazards, there are bad things that can happen, a lot of wind, lot of water, a lot of surge, even power outages. But we never tell people ‘So what does it mean for me?’”
The city worked with Rice professors to create a new digital map that pinpoints risk down to the level of one-square kilometer.
You can punch in your address and get a risk rating for wind damage, storm surge, power loss and flooding from rainfall.
The tool takes into account things like how new the buildings are, where the power lines are, and how many trees are around.
Michael Walter with the Office of Emergency Management says the tool will not replace real-time calls to evacuate.
But it will empower people to start planning ahead of time.
“You can figure out based on what’s important to you. You know, if you’re looking for information based on you not having electricity, maybe the choice for you might be: ‘We’re going to hold on, ride out the storm, then go ahead and evacuate afterwards.’”