Rice U. experts available to discuss Hurricane Harvey as anniversary approaches 

Rice University
Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations


David Ruth

Amy McCaig

Rice U. experts available to discuss Hurricane Harvey as anniversary approaches 

HOUSTON — (July 30, 2018) — Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas August 25,  2017, was one of the costliest tropical cyclones on record. As Harvey’s one-year anniversary approaches, Rice University experts are available to discuss many topics related to the storm.

aerial view of flooding from Harvey

An aerial view shows extensive flooding from Harvey in a residential area in Southeast Texas, Aug. 31, 2017. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez)

Phil Bedient, director of Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED) and the Herman Brown Professor of Engineering, works in the areas of flood prediction and flood plain analysis, disaster management and land-use impacts on flooding. He has studied every major flood that has hit Houston since the 1970s and developed the Flood Alert System (FAS4) for the Texas Medical Center and one located in Sugar Land, Texas. He is currently working on projects for Brays, Greens and White Oak bayous and Cypress Creek.

Jim Blackburn, a professor in the practice of environmental law in Rice’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, co-director of the SSPEED Center, a faculty scholar at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and an environmental lawyer who has worked on flooding issues in Harris County for 40 years, has expertise in policy and technical issues associated with rainfall and hurricane surge-related flooding, including both evaluation of problems and solutions. Since Harvey, he has published four Baker Institute papers on flooding and is working on a fifth. Among his concerns is the threat flooding poses to the economic future of the Houston area.

“The Houston region is at a crossroads with our future being dependent upon how we address this flooding issue,” Blackburn said. “We must consider integrating water into the design of the community. We must learn to live with water and manage flooding rather than controlling flooding, and must emphasize natural and economic solutions as well as traditional engineering approaches.”

Erik Dane, an associate professor of management in Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, is available to discuss behavior biases in decision-making following Harvey. Together with Rice Professor James Weston, he authored “How To Decide Whether To Stay and Rebuild or Sell and Move Away if Flooding Has Damaged Your Home” on the Rice Business Wisdom blog.

Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, a professor of sociology and director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP), is available to discuss the role faith and religious organizations played during and after Harvey. RPLP is hosting an event on this topic Aug. 30. For more details, visit https://bit.ly/2Olwhjx.

“Religious communities were some of the primary responders during the storm,” Ecklund said.

Robert Englebretson, chair and associate professor of linguistics at Rice, is a collaborator on the Houston Urban English Study — Harvey Oral Narratives on Record. He is available to discuss the project, which was one of several awarded funding last year by the Rice Houston Engagement and Recovery Effort. To date, he and his fellow collaborators have recorded more than 85 oral history interviews, with more scheduled to take place this summer.

“This collection of stories includes individuals’ personal experiences with the storm, how it affected them and what they believe are the effects on Houston,” he said.

Chris Fagundes, an assistant professor of psychology in Rice’s School of Social Sciences, studies interactions between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body. His previous research has included a study on how disasters make people with depression less healthy. He can comment on how major life stressors affect the human body.

Jeff Fitlow, assistant university photographer at Rice, captured the university’s volunteer efforts through photography during and after the storm. His family was under a mandatory evacuation during the storm, but he stayed in touch with coworkers and Rice volunteers through social media.

“The most impressive thing I saw throughout the storm was Rice’s organization and leadership that helped make the most of the time, food, donations and resources available,” he said. “I could have spent every second taking photos and I still wouldn’t have been able to capture all the ways Rice was coming to the aid of Houston.”

William Fulton, director of Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, is an expert on land-use planning. He can speak about a wide range of non-engineering techniques that can be used to assist in flood-proofing Houston — especially in hard-hit lower-income neighborhoods — such as buyouts, neighborhood-level mitigation efforts and green infrastructure.

“After Harvey, Houston is at an inflection point,” Fulton said. “It’s clear that Houston needs not just engineering solutions but also better land-use planning and green infrastructure as well in order to manage the challenge of living with water rather than always fighting against it.”

Clark Haptonstall, chair and professor of Rice’s Department of Sport Management, is an expert on public relations, marketing, ethics and journalism in sports. He can discuss many related topics, including the use of Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium as a donation center, how sports (and momentous occasions such as the Houston Astros’ World Series victory) unite people in the face of tragedy and devastation, and how local athletes — including the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt — raised huge amounts of money to help the community rebuild.

“Whenever there is a devastating tragedy like a hurricane, people look at sporting events as both a diversion and as a return to normalcy,” Haptonstall said. “With Hurricane Harvey, all of Houston’s professional sports teams and many of their athletes got involved and were able to use their influence to make a difference. After Harvey, the people of Houston worked together to help each other and the city was looking for something to rally around. With that in mind, the Astros winning their first World Series couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice, the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and fellow in political science at Rice’s Baker Institute, is a co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation project at the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs designed to better understand the experiences of Houston-area residents during Harvey as well as their attitudes toward efforts to safeguard the Houston metro area from similar disasters. Topics examined by Jones and his colleagues include public support for the $2.5 billion Harris County flood control bond proposal voters will consider Aug. 25, the level of public confidence in the ability of state and local elected officials to reduce the negative impact of future flooding, and the extent to which the public believes much of the $2.5 billion bond proposal will go to politically connected developers and firms rather than benefit the general public by reducing the risk of future flooding in the region.

“The University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs study on which I am a co-principal investigator will provide wealth-neutral and objective information on public opinion related to recovery efforts stemming from Hurricane Harvey and flood-mitigation efforts spurred by Harvey’s devastation as we approach the one-year anniversary of this tragedy,” Jones said.

Danielle King, an assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology in Rice’s School of Social Sciences, is an expert in the study of employee and organizational resilience. She can discuss resilience in the face of catastrophic events. As a New Orleans native, following her personal experience of losing and subsequently helping to adapt her family business post-Hurricane Katrina, she seeks to uncover methods to create resilience in individuals and groups at work.

“I am inspired by and drawn to the ‘Houston Strong’ motto and the city’s ongoing resilience efforts,” King said. “They embody many of the characteristics important for resilience, such as social support, shared identity and available resources.”

Tom Kolditz, a leadership scholar and director of Rice’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders, is available to discuss leadership in the context of disasters, especially Harvey. Kolditz and his team led Rice’s Harvey volunteer response effort, which involved 2,000 students, out of the Doerr Institute offices.

A retired Army Brigadier General, Kolditz has led response efforts to Asian monsoons and other loss-of-life disasters. He has published extensively on leader response to disaster, with numerous television, radio and podcast interviews about the Chilean mine crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and most recently the Thai soccer team crisisHis research was the first to scientifically isolate the characteristics that followers require of leaders while under threat of physical harm.

Tommy LaVergne, university photographer at Rice, was in Australia with the Rice football team when Harvey hit Houston.

“Imagine being in Sydney, Australia, turning on the local news and the first story is Houston, Texas, being inundated with 20-plus inches of rain and another 15 inches possible over the next couple of days,” he said. “Imagine seeing that while simultaneously enjoying the most perfect weather on the planet. We started getting footage from Texas and it was all anyone could talk about.”

When LaVergne finally made it back to Houston, he was relieved that his property and loved ones were safe and was astounded by how the Rice family united to help Houston.

“To see a community come together to help others was just incredible,” he said. “The families who were helped by the Rice students were so thankful and really just amazed by their focus and organization. I was so proud of them and proud of Rice.”

Brandon Martin, manager of videography at Rice, worked as a TV news photographer and covered storms such as hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Rita from 2000 to 2011. He was returning from Australia with the Rice football team when Harvey was inundating Houston with rain. After safely making it back to the city, checking on his family and documenting flood damage in Kingwood, Texas, Martin turned his attention to covering how Rice was making an impact.

“It was amazing to see how many people were helping,” Martin said. “A home with 9 feet of water in it during the storm was stripped and ready for rebuilding in a matter of hours after a dozen students and Rice Provost Marie Lynn Miranda showed up to help. After documenting several Gulf Coast storms, I think it seems like the stronger the storm, the stronger the response from the people.”

Caleb McDaniel, an associate professor of history at Rice, is available to discuss the Harvey Memories Project, which was awarded funding by the Rice Houston Engagement and Recovery Effort. The goal of the project is to build an open-access digital repository to collect, preserve and publish community-contributed memories of the storm in multiple formats, including photos of storm preparations and cleanup, audio and video recordings of the storm in progress, survivors’ narratives and art..

“Everyone was on social media during Hurricane Harvey,” said McDaniel, one of eight Rice collaborators on the project. “It was probably the most digitally mediated natural disaster in U.S. history.”

Marie Lynn Miranda, Rice’s Howard R. Hughes Provost, professor of statistics and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative, is the lead investigator for the Hurricane Harvey Registry, Rice’s collaborative research study with the Houston Health Department, Harris County Public Health, Fort Bend County Health Department, Montgomery County Health Department, and Environmental Defense Fund that is collecting information on the impact of Harvey on the Greater Houston area community. She can discuss the registry and also the health, housing and environmental impacts associated with major storm events. She worked in South Carolina following Hurricane Hugo, in North Carolina following Hurricane Fran and on the Gulf Coast following Katrina and has been in Houston since 2015.

“Residents of the region experienced our community responding to Harvey with strength, resilience and compassion,” Miranda said. “We must bring the same qualities to bear as we respond to the significant, longer-term health and environmental effects of the storm.”

Kyle Shelton, director of strategic partnerships at Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, can discuss housing impacts and the recovery process, transportation impacts and challenges, overall infrastructure ideas and work being undertaken, the overall recovery process and ideas about mitigation and building a more resilient city.

“The Kinder Institute has been at the forefront of numerous conversations and projects about how to assess the damage from Hurricane Harvey and think about how to best recover from the storm,” Shelton said. “At the same time, we’ve been working diligently to think through how the city, county, region and state can work together to prepare for future disasters.”

James Weston, the Harmon Whittington Professor of Finance for Rice’s Jones School of Business, is available to speak about the financial impact of the storm, insurance and insurance markets and behavioral biases in decision-making. Together with Rice Associate Professor Erik Dane, he authored “How To Decide Whether To Stay and Rebuild or Sell and Move Away if Flooding Has Damaged Your Home” on the Rice Business Wisdom blog.

Media interested in interviewing any of these experts may contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or amym@rice.edu.

Rice University has a VideoLink ReadyCam TV interview studio. ReadyCam is capable of transmitting broadcast-quality standard-definition and high-definition video directly to all news media organizations around the world 24/7.


This news release can be found online at https://news.rice.edu.

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Related materials:

Rice video filmed during Hurricane Harvey: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdyZjWkoCPVukpnd8vu-t1BfxTBQdlrbt

Rice photos taken during Hurricane Harvey: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ricepublicaffairs/albums/72157687981538946

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About Amy McCaig

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