Texas must rethink long-term hazard mitigation efforts

Texas must rework its long-term hazard mitigation efforts to improve overall recovery from natural disasters, according to a new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Image of rescuers during Hurricane Harvey. Submitted photo.“Rethinking Disaster Recovery and Mitigation Funding in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey” builds on earlier work outlined in “Funding Primer: Harvey Relief and Recovery,” which provided insight into the complexities of disaster recovery funding. The report is based on work by Ward Lyles from the University of Kansas, Phil Berke from Texas A&M University in College Station and Gavin Smith from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Government Accountability Office and Congressional Research Service reports were used to frame the debate about disaster funding at the national level.

“Recent disasters have shined a light on the failures of the area’s resilience-planning efforts and the funding mechanisms that support them,” said Kyle Shelton, director of strategic partnerships at the Kinder Institute and one of the report’s authors. “This report is designed to help policymakers rethink their approach to handling disaster recovery.”

“The U.S. has a long history of providing federal disaster relief to states and local areas to recover from flood events, but the use of federal disaster funds is proving ineffective in lessening risk and building resilience to future events,” said Carlos Villegas, an urban and metropolitan governance staff researcher at the Kinder Institute and one of the report’s authors.

The report’s key findings are that federal and Texas’ long-term hazard mitigation planning efforts have not been effective in preparing the state to deal with either disaster mitigation or the recovery process, and cities, regions and the state must work together to create more effective plans rooted in shared principles. In addition, the report suggests Texas can support hazard mitigation planning by better empowering local areas and by providing funding that fills gaps in the national system.

Villegas said Texas relies primarily on federal grant programs instead of having its own dedicated hazard relief program. These federal programs tend to be focused more on rebuilding infrastructure than hazard mitigation, he said.

Katya Wowk, senior associate for strategic planning and policy at the Harte Research Institute and one of the report’s authors, said that impacted areas want to rebuild and get back to some sense of normalcy as soon as possible.

“Often, there is a lack of capacity and support to look at the broader picture of risk and resilience, one that considers physical infrastructure and economic recovery alongside the natural and social systems that make Texas coastal communities special places to live,” Wowk said. “Funding and technical support are needed to help communities look at this bigger picture of resilience, in and across communities, before projects go in the ground.”

The report also suggests that the state must take full advantage of collaborative entities that tie various levels of government and nongovernment organizations together (i.e., the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium and the Hurricane Harvey Children’s Recovery Collaborative), as these groups can help structure a more complete recovery framework.

“Leveraging available resources can help tremendously during times of crisis,” Villegas said. “Although our area is doing a good job of this, what is needed is a detailed plan outlining which organizations take care of different things so there is a clear road map in times of crisis.”

The report is available online at https://kinder.rice.edu/.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.