The Nation’s Flood Capital? A Look at Houston Post-Harvey and Imelda

10/08/2019 - Blog

From mayoral debate stages to the world's largest intergovernmental summits, climate change is a blazing hot topic.

While some dispute the scientific consensus that human activity is the main culprit for climate-warming trends, one American city is looking to focus on building resilience rather than assessing blame: Houston.

Victim of the most extreme rain event in U.S. history, enduring over 60 inches of rain, Houston has come together to not only address the still-pending aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but also to assess and implement preventive measures. Many climate scientists purport that the devastating event of the summer of 2017 should "serve as a warning," and the unprecedented levels of rainfall may become the norm in future storms.


Devastating Floods: Houston's New Norm

“Expect #HarveyFlood record will be broken in 5, 15, 25 years from now — sooner rather than later,” tweeted David Titley, professor of meteorology at Penn State.

With Harris County—which encompasses Houston—averaging five days of flooding each year, the question, "Is Houston the nation's flood capital?" is on everyone's mind, from private citizens to commercial real estate investors.

Sadly, the devastation caused by Harvey is already compounded by another recent event: Tropical Depression Imelda. The catastrophic flooding forced Texas Governor Greg Abbott to declare a state of disaster in 13 counties late last month, as the difficult weather "caused widespread and severe property damage and threaten[ed] loss of life."

Gripping footage of hundreds of cars abandoned on highways seized television screens across the nation prompting the question:


How can Houston and other vulnerable cities mitigate risk and loss?

Federal funding for recovery and rebuilding, particularly of private homes, has been slow to reach Harvey victims. But one Houstonian institution has shown just how effective resilient design can be: the Texas Medical Center (TMC).

The largest medical complex in the world was devastated by 2011's Tropical Storm Allison, and used the event as an opportunity to rebuild better and stronger. TMC was reconstructed complete with flood gates, isolated buildings, and an elevated electrical system. Together with Rice University, the medical center also implemented a Flood Alert System at Brays Bayou to serve the surrounding community.

The result? Texas Medical Center survived Hurricane Harvey relatively intact.

Compared to what TMC experienced during Allison, “the difference was that we had no intrusion of water on this campus. We had no loss of power. We were fully operational,” said Tom Flanagan, vice president of trauma services and disaster preparedness for the Memorial Hermann Health System. “We were able to shelter our staff and patients in house while we continued to receive patients… a 180-degree difference from what happened in Tropical Storm Allison.”


Learning from TMC: Considerations for Houston's Commercial Real Estate Community

"Harvey changed everything,” says Guy Hagstette, FAIA, the former Director of Planning and Development for the Houston Downtown Management District.

While the city struggles to disburse relief funds, it has taken some measures to facilitate rebuilding.

In July, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved tougher rules for building in floodplains in the county, and just last month, the court granted new authority to the Harris County Attorney’s Office to quickly file lawsuits against homeowners and businesses that violate floodplain building rules.

Stringent building regulations can mean higher building costs, which has some developers worried. But they have not impeded Houston's expansion; much to the contrary, real estate development continues in flood plains and the region is setting records for home sales, including many properties that flooded during Harvey.

Developers in the Houston market would be wise to add value and build for longevity. This includes a consistent effort to:

  • Elevate structures
  • Build with flood damage resistant materials
  • Design assemblies to dry easily when they get wet
  • Raise electrical systems
  • Consider installing flood gates for larger, critical construction projects

An experienced construction consultant can provide the assurance of a well-built, on-time project capable of withstanding Houston's "new norm" of heavy waterfall and flooding.

Learn about EBI's experienced construction consulting team.

HVAC systems also play a large part in mitigating a building's vulnerability to flood damage and the ensuing health risks posed by mold-infested heating, ventilation, and air conditioning ductwork, which can exacerbate lung and breathing conditions if not properly cleaned or replaced.

Flood resistant HVAC design can include:

  • Use of flood shields
  • Elevation of HVAC systems and components
  • Use of corrosion-resistant materials, coats and finishes that help reduce flood impact and facilitate clean up
  • Considering isolating systems that cannot be replaced

Contact EBI today if you are considering options to mitigate your HVAC system's vulnerability to flood damage.


All Mold Remediation Is Not Created Equal

With Governor Abbott's extension of the Disaster Declaration on August 5, the Texas Department of Health Services released emergency guidelines, allowing out-of-state mold remediation companies and unlicensed companies to apply for a temporary waiver to remediate mold in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

But for many flood victims, the waiver creates another burden by putting victims in charge of vetting against possible fraudulent service providers.

Because of this, it's imperative to hire mold abatement and remediation specialists with the capacity and know-how to handle the scope of work, and who can provide a true collaborative partnership during the remediation process.

Dealing with mold in Houston, Texas? EBI's Site Investigation and Remediation team has the capacity and know-how to bring your property back to occupation-ready condition. Call us today to discuss your needs.


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