In all-hands-on-deck response to Harvey, lessons learned from earlier storms

Adapted from an article published in The Christian Science Monitor, August 28, 2017.

As College Avenue in Houston flooded one night in August, the yellow Waffle House sign at the top of the hill stayed on. Stranded drivers trudged toward the glow through muck and rain and sat down for a sip of coffee and some eggs-and-grits, glad to be shielded, at least for a moment, from a storm named Harvey. “We’ve become a refuge,” said Waffle House employee Kirby Sherrod.

Ahead of the storm, there were questions about whether Texas-style self-reliance or a centralized, civil-defense-era response from the federal government should govern. But as an all-hands-on-deck response to historic floods has unfolded, the all-of-the-above support exemplifies something new: a template for what the nation’s top emergency managers call “whole-community” response. It’s a dramatic shift in how the United States prepares for natural disasters.

Almost 12 years to the day since a Category 3 storm named Katrina raked Louisiana and Mississippi, killing more than 1,800 people, hurricane Harvey, which came on land as a walloping Category 4, has taken fewer lives in America’s fourth-most-populous city. A number of factors played into the relatively low casualty count in Houston and surrounding towns: geography, wealth, city planning and infrastructure, and Texas’s deep culture of individualism—along with an all-out federal response.

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