One Year Later: Hurricane Preparedness Tips in the Wake of Harvey

Many people are posting to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s devastating passage through Houston on August 25th 2017. Not many of them will have my perspective, although many former Houston based expats will have shared my feelings of helplessness as I scoured news reports from Calgary.

The threat of hurricanes was just one of those things you get used to when you live in a city like Houston. It’s the same as mosquitoes, roaches and 100 degree heat day after day – the first year you obsess, but as time passes, you take very little notice unless the background murmurs start to become a steady hum, or you go to the grocery store and all the packs of water are gone! “Hmmm, something must be going on around here,” you think and turn on the news. I don’t reckon many of us will be as blasé in the future though. Just as Katrina shook the world in 2005, Harvey changed the landscape of Houston forever last year.

Watching from Calgary as my home town of the previous 11 years was first buffeted by crazy winds and then submerged by rain and flood waters, I felt intense ‘survivor’s guilt.’ We had lived in Houston from 2005 – post Katrina – until 2016. Relatively ‘good’ years weather wise. In many ways, it was ‘home’ and we felt like we had abandoned all our friends when they needed us the most.

The worst thing in these situations is probably the feeling of helplessness. At least I was lucky enough to have some ways to feel useful. Safe and dry in Calgary with fully functional Wi-Fi, I was able to coordinate the efforts of my amazing team of relocation consultants as they left their own worries behind to take care of our clients across the city. Stories circulated about people rescuing each other and delivering food supplies to those isolated areas which didn’t draw the news vans. Our people were there helping and offering whatever support they could.

We all learned valuable lessons from last August and the months that followed. I came away with a certain knowledge that there are no people quite like Texans when the chips are down. The incredible sense of community that exists in Houston and the willingness of the people to help each other was genuinely inspirational and, dare I say this as a Brit, awesome.

Tips collected from my team who were working throughout include:

  • Listen to the advice coming from the news or your HR department – not your friends.
  • Don’t drive through water when you can’t see the road, and definitely don’t drive onto roads which have been barricaded.
  • Pay complete attention when driving in bad weather, as conditions can change very quickly.
  • Always have your hurricane supplies on hand if a storm is forecast .
  • Buy flood insurance regardless of the fact that the house hasn’t flooded in 100 years. Lots of people lost everything because they didn’t have insurance they thought they didn’t need, or assumed that renters’ insurance included it. It doesn’t.
  • Don’t go out into flood water or let your kids play in it. It’s full of litter, sewage and who knows what else. It might look like fun but many people had health issues after Harvey because of this.
  • Fill your vehicle gas tanks before the storm. Gas stations can’t function without power.
  • Get cash. If we lose power it goes to a cash only status for purchases.
  • Have a plan. If you plan on evacuating, don’t wait. Local news will let you know if you’re in a mandatory evacuation zone.
  • Have any prescription medications packed and accessible.
  • Please don’t forget your pets.

As we mark the first anniversary this weekend, I would just like to send out this warning to future weather systems, ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’! We’re ‘Texas Strong’ and you can’t beat us down. Blow on by!