One lesson learned by many after Hurricane Ike five years ago was to keep critical equipment above the first floor. It certainly is one learned by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. UTMB suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damages in part because many of its utilities were on the ground floor level.
Marcel Blanchard is the assistant vice president of utility operations at UTMB and he was one of about 20 speakers at the conference organized by the Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology. He says what he learned from the disaster was how important it is to restore services quickly.
“You can’t plan for an event. You can do the best you can to plan and know that the event is going to happen. But what you have to do is you have to mitigate the damage that’s going to happen. It’s going to happen, so for us it’s about elevation and protection and about energy security.”
Cumaraswamy Vipulanandan, also known as Dr. Vipu, is the director of the University of Houston’s Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology. He says that’s the purpose of the annual conference – to educate stakeholders on how to recover quickly after a storm hits. Part of that is looking at new technologies that are currently being developed.
“We not only talk about what happened in the past but we’re also looking for what could be the future action, so that we could be prepared for any disaster event.”
Keynote speaker at the conference was state Representative Bill Callegari from Katy. He says a big problem before a hurricane is evacuation. Which is why residents in areas that are not likely to be affected by storm surge should stay put.
“After the hurricane hits, we’ve got a number of issues. We’ve got water and wastewater facilities, which is my expertise. We want to make sure that those are back in operation as soon as possible. Or that there are emergency generators, there are facilities too, where people can share water between communities.”
Looking further ahead, Gavin Smith, executive director of the Coastal Hazard Center at the University of North Carolina, says the increasing urbanization of coastal areas can be a problem in dealing with hurricanes.
“How do we, as planners or people that are concerned about the vitality of our coast, how do we plan for economic development, how do we plan for growth, how do we deal with fundamental issues like, do we armor our coastline or do we consider retreating from that coastline. And how do you do that in the context of major cities like a Houston, Galveston Bay Area or in New York City or Miami.”
So far there have been four named storms this hurricane season, all of them were tropical storms.