Transitioning from risk to warning’s, two specific incidents resonate deeply with me. They are Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017, both effecting Houston, Texas. From a warning’s view, two different decisions were made in the case of these two storms, both with vastly different outcomes.
In 2005, the effects of Hurricane Katrina still in the back of everyones mind, decision makers decided on evacuation with the impending risk of Category 5 Rita making landfall in Houston. This turned into the largest evacuation in US history, with an estimated 3.7 million people trying to get out of the city. This turned the I-45 North into a 100 mile long traffic jam in 100+ degree heat. After Rita took a turn to the East and glanced away from Houston, the city reeled from the death tole of the evacuation (73) in relation to the storm (<10).
Hurricane Harvey had a much different effect on the City of Houston. City Mayor Sylvester Turner warned people to stay in their homes and to ‘ride out the storm’. This decision was scrutinized due to the fact that Governor Greg Abbott was noted saying, “if I was living in the area, I’d head north”, and that “If you have the ability to evacuate and go someplace else for a little while, that would be good.” Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented amounts of rainfall to the area, adding to the scrutiny of no evacuation. How much of a factor during the decision making process was the thought of Hurricane Rita? I would gather that it was substantial. There-in lies the ‘risk’ of this warning process, the scrutiny in the aftermath no matter what the decision. Dozens of people died due to the decision to evacuate during the 2005 storm, or lack there of. Again, numerous people perished during 2017 due to flooding and weather related hazards of remaining in the area.
The mitigation of risk from a governmental level is hard to stay the least. We must make decisions based on risk potential and the possibility of mitigation from our response. To do this effectively, we must remain ready at all times and at all levels.