Improving Coordination for Infrastructure Resilience Following Hurricane Harvey

Date: 10/5/2018

Author: Cassie Oswood, Public Relations

Following the hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded research into the broader impacts of these disasters. In order to better understand why Hurricane Harvey created such extensive infrastructure failures, Ali Mostafavi and her team of researchers used surveys and field visits to analyze the interdependencies between stakeholders and decision-makers concerning the city of Houston. The team of researchers also looked into infrastructure and resilience plans.
The Four main takeaways thus far are:

  1. Collaboration between stakeholders (policymakers and decision-makers across sectors, state and local government and non-governmental organizations) was fragmented, with silos that negatively affect resilience and hazard mitigation planning.
  2. Partially because of this fragmentation, network plans were not developed in concert. For example, the transportation plan had as a goal to relieve traffic, so the city of Houston built a new highway. Transportation planners weren't thinking about flood risk in the area. When housing plans allowed developments to follow the highway, flood risk wasn't considered, even though the new developments were between two reservoirs and covered green space with concrete.
  3. The dependencies of one infrastructure system on another are not fully accounted for. For example, civil engineers design street drainage of heavy rains and flooding to minimize the damage to buildings. Emergency response systems didn't take this planned street flooding into account, making it much harder than expected to reach people in need.
  4. Most of the plans in place were built around the needs of the community as a whole, with a lack of focus on vulnerable populations that sometimes had specific needs. The most vulnerable populations will need the most resources in a recovery, and they are also very often the same populations left out of the planning process. There needs to be more thinking at the policy level about the most vulnerable.
This research is important because it can be incorporated into two tools for policymakers and engineers to improve their planning process. The first being a computational model of infrastructure that allows new developments and retrofits to be assessed for improved resilience. The second tool is a scorecard that can be used to evaluate the integration of community plans for all hazards, flood control and mitigation to increase local and regional resilience. It has been highlighted on the NSF website.