Hurricane Harvey: Mitigation and Response


Hurricane Harvey changed lives and caused destruction in the state of Texas. The category four storm landed on the coast on the 26th of August 2017 (Risser & Wehner, 2017). Instead of proceeding inland, the hurricane stalled, and a section of the system remained active over the Gulf of Mexico. An unprecedented degree of precipitation fell in the state between the 25th and the 31st of August, causing floods that destroyed property and displaced local residents (Risser & Wehner, 2017). Disaster preparedness efforts and programs played a critical role in addressing the humanitarian crisis that resulted from Hurricane Harvey’s destruction.


Houston was significantly affected by the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. In view of the fact that the city’s physical and development context shapes its flood risk, the region’s governing bodies have made significant regulatory and infrastructural plans to reduce risk. The federal government is responsible for straightening and widening bayous, maintaining ship channels, and running the flood control reservoirs in the area (Global Disaster Preparedness Center, 2018). In Houston, the government constructed the White Oak, Barker, and Addicks control reservoirs as a response to massive flood events in 1929 and 1935 (Global Disaster Preparedness Center, 2018). They were designed to accommodate overflow and protect the surrounding area from flooding.

Several mitigation initiatives have been implemented at the state level to protect the residents from the devastating effects of flooding. It provides funding to facilitate the development of hazard mitigation programs. For instance, in Harris County, the engineering department is responsible for establishing and enforcing floodplain management protocols. In addition, it oversees specific stormwater detention requirements within the county’s jurisdiction. The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD), which was created in 1937 by the Texas Legislature, is tasked with addressing the operational and physical aspects of flood risk reduction (Global Disaster Preparedness Center, 2018). The HCFCD maintains and offers flood mitigation assistance for the 2500 miles of river channels in the county, in addition to implementing a home buyout program for high-risk properties (Global Disaster Preparedness Center, 2018). The organization also lines, straightens, and widens bayous and develops stormwater detention basins to improve water flow and limit overbank flooding. These measures played a critical role in preparing the region for hurricane Harvey’s devastating impact.


Preparing for the devastating effects of a storm is essential if adverse effects are to be limited. Before Hurricane Harvey reached its destination, several institutions prepared for its arrival. The Montgomery County Hospital District (MCHD) Emergency Medical Services (EMS), which covers an area of approximately 1,100 square miles in the Houston metropolitan area, made specific preparations to cater to the needs of over 600,000 residents (Guillote, 2018). For instance, the MCHD brought all available personnel to their workstations and provided food and cots. In addition, it employed back staff and prepositioned personnel in anticipation of challenges related to station access. The organization also placed equipment and trucks in strategic locations (Guillote, 2018). All the institution’s stations were equipped with functioning diesel generators in anticipation of power outages. In addition, the work areas were equipped with extra supplies and fuel in case the available resources were depleted.

The MCHD also brought its Medical Command program online in anticipation of difficulty accessing hospital facilities. It was designed to offer direct medical oversight and phone consultations for inaccessible patients (Guillote, 2018). In addition, air and boat resources were secured, and their activities were coordinated by the Medical Command program to assist first responders in the field. The Houston Fire Department prepared for the storm by placing rescue resources such as evacuation boats and rescue equipment in specific locations that are historically prone to flooding. Fire stations in regions prone to heavy floods were evacuated, and the personnel and equipment were assigned to different stations (Guillote, 2018). The department also prepared heavy utility trucks from the Public Works Department for use as high-water rescue vehicles. The county employed medical direction staff whose primary task was to aid personnel in making patient transport decisions and other non-medical issues. Finally, the largest shelters in the area would be equipped with medical devices and staff to alleviate pressure on the hospital system.


The MCHD’s response to Hurricane Harvey was characterized by a minimal patient surge immediately after the storm. However, the ability to safely navigate routes in an attempt to access patients and hospital care proved difficult. It is worth noting that the information on route closures was unpredictable, meaning a significant amount of time was spent surveying the area to update personnel in the field (Guillote, 2018). Phone calls through the medical command program offered direct medical assistance to individuals who were out of the field personnel’s reach. The medical directors recorded each of the contacts and followed up with the patients to evaluate the progression of their symptoms and organize rescues. Citizen rescuers played a pivotal role in saving people from flooded regions. The rescued patients were transported to pop-up and Red Cross shelters across the state, causing some initial confusion (Guillote, 2018). Misinformation on the medical capabilities in a variety of shelters necessitated the provision of assessments and communication of needs by MCHD supervisors on the ground.

The calls for assistance received by the Fire Department exceeded the institution’s expectations. For instance, on one occasion, the Houston public service answering station recorded approximately 56,000 calls for aid in a fifteen-hour stretch as opposed to the eight thousand that are typically received in that time frame (Guillote, 2018). Areas that had never flooded before were rendered impassable as water levels remained high for days which significantly limited access to individuals in need of evacuation. It is worth noting that there was a significant scarcity of high-water rescue automobiles. The police department, aid agencies, and the Coast Guard played a pivotal role in the rescue effort. The George R. Brown convention center functioned as a shelter where the fire department facilitated the provision of medical services to over 10,000 individuals (Guillote, 2018). However, the resources required to address the needs of individuals that required chronic care, such as hemodialysis and oxygen, were limited. Coordinating efforts between the various agencies was difficult, with the main challenge experienced being communication.


Hurricane Harvey left desolation in its wake as it ravaged cities along its path. Several recovery efforts have been implemented to help the residents rebuild homes and infrastructure. The strategic priorities of the recovery effort are to restore the affected area’s housing projects, repair assets and protect them from future risk and enhance efforts on flood mitigation (Costello et al., 2020). The city of Houston launched several housing programs, such as the homeowner assistance program designed to aid local residents to rebuild or relocate their homes (Costello et al., 2020). In addition, the city conducted a housing seminar for the purpose of increasing knowledge on the management of public and private recovery programs.

In a bid to protect the region’s infrastructure and protect it from future adversities, the state of Texas provided reimbursements to fund repair and maintenance projects. The city of Houston spent approximately 169 million dollars to repair and protect 553 assets (Costello et al., 2020). In addition, the city presented five applications to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which approved three of the proposals at the cost of 230 million dollars (Costello et al., 2020). The 86th Texas Legislation passed a bill that allows affected cities to use funds in repair work and mitigation projects. The city of Houston created a contemporary platform for emergency alerting that features an updated mobility map that highlights flood-prone locations in five different languages (Costello et al., 2020). Affected cities have also focused on collecting debris and clearing public and private spaces impacted by the hurricane. In addition, FEMA has dedicated resources to help families rebuild their homes and businesses. Finally, local authorities have developed action plans designed to guide recovery efforts across their jurisdictions.

Human Behavior and Disaster Vulnerability

The relationship between vulnerability and physical hazards determines disaster risk. Vulnerability is defined as the susceptibility of assets, systems, and people to disturbances and their inability to adapt to adverse scenarios (Schneiderbauer et al., 2017). Human behavior affects a population’s ability to avert risks associated with disasters. Specific human mannerisms predispose populations to risk from disastrous events. For instance, reliance on fossil fuels has contributed to the creation of adverse weather patterns as the climate evolves, leading to hurricanes, droughts, and flooding. Settlements in flood-prone areas increase the risk of property damage and may cause the loss of lives. In addition, the refusal by governments to prioritize disaster mitigation efforts increases vulnerability because populations are unprepared to handle the adverse effects associated with disasters.

While it is true that settlements in flood-prone areas and coastlines increase risk, the context of these behaviors must be evaluated. First, the changing climate has transformed geographical areas by extending flood plains and increasing the amount of precipitation received by specific regions (Schneiderbauer et al., 2017). In addition, the evolving global financial crisis has impacted various nations forcing people to settle in disaster-prone areas in an attempt to survive. Finally, poor legislative policies and the lack of effective governance structures have led to an increase in risky behavior in various parts of the world.

Lessons Learned

Hurricane Harvey presented a variety of challenges from which vital lessons can be learned in preparation for future disasters. First, the identification of shelters, including their capacity and contact information, is critical. In addition, creating a database of community paramedics who can be called upon to assist in rescue efforts is vital. It is important to identify and acquire community resources necessary to care for chronically ill patients in the region. It is necessary to invest in rescue equipment such as water rescue vehicles and boats. Reassessing the staging of resources using evidence-based data that focus on high-risk areas must be prioritized. Finally, streamlining communication for inter-agency coordination ensures that all aspects related to the humanitarian crisis caused by the disaster are effectively addressed.


Costello, S., Patino, L., & Slattery, R. (2020). Hurricane Harvey recovery: Steps towards implementation. City of Houston Office of Recovery. Web.

Global Disaster Preparedness Center. (2018). Houston and Hurricane Harvey: A call to action. Web.

Guillote, C. (2018). Preparation, response, and lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey . Journal of Emergency Medical Services. Web.

Risser, M. D., & Wehner, M. F. (2017). Attributable human-induced changes in the likelihood and magnitude of the observed extreme precipitation during Hurricane Harvey. Geophysical Research Letters, 44(24), 12,457-12,464. Web.

Schneiderbauer, S., Calliari, E., Eidsvig, U., & Hagenlocher, M. (2017). The most recent view of vulnerability. In K. Poljanšek, F. M. Marin, T. De Groeve, & I. Clark (Eds.), Science for disaster risk management 2017: Knowing better and losing less, (pp. 68–82). Publications Office of the European Union.

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