What can we do better next time?

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Sept. 2, 2017 at midnight
Updated Sept. 3, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Crossroads residents are demonstrating a determination and grit that only people living in a hurricane-ravaged area can.

Many have persevered the past week with no power; some with no reliable shelter, limited water and food rations.

Along with our anxieties, Harvey's impact will not drift away any time soon. God forbid, but storms swelling up in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea can swirl any time into another deadly threat.

With these concerns all-too-fresh in our minds, it would be wise to start asking now some tough questions of ourselves and of our leaders.

One of the first questions is about weather forecasting models. Nationally, officials have touted improved hurricane models, but no one predicted the severity of Hurricane Harvey in time.

Early forecasts described the storm first as a tropical depression or storm. Within about 24 hours, Harvey mushroomed into a Category 1, 2, 3 and, finally, a 4.

The rapid escalation led Victoria officials to issue a mandatory evacuation order at 5:24 p.m. Thursday - about a day's warning for everyone to prepare and leave their homes. By then, most residents had made the incorrect decision to stay and ride out the storm.

Should the order have been issued earlier?

Did Crossroads officials properly prepare residents for a Category 4 storm? Why did weather forecasting models fail to provide an accurate prediction of Harvey's strength?

Questions sprang up after the storm, too. One of the first wounds of Harvey was our above-ground power lines that could not withstand hurricane-force winds in the neighborhood of 100 mph.

Burying power lines throughout Victoria has been a recurring debate - with money at the center of that discussion. Many have argued the cost would be too expensive, but now we have to ask again whether its benefits are worth the investment. Across the country, in places much less prone to hurricanes, power lines are commonly buried.

Underground lines may not be a guarantee of power at the back end of a storm, but the shorter amount of time to restore power may be its biggest advantage. And we also must weigh the public safety factor and huge property loss caused by numerous structure fires related to downed power lines.

In terms of essential city of Victoria services, we need to look at why our water system failed because of the power outage. There may be no easy answers to this question, but it's one our city officials must consider carefully.

Part of the solution is looking at best practices put in place by other comparable cities prone to natural disasters. How do they ensure a redundancy of power source to their water system? If the water system goes out, how do they most rapidly restore the service?

Down the highway is the coastal town of Port Lavaca, which lifted its boil water notice late Thursday. The town, which also took a direct hit from Harvey, already has water safe to drink.

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority owns and operates a water plant on State Highway 316 South and sells the water to Port Lavaca, which distributes it to residents. In advance of Harvey making landfall, the city filled its two, above-ground storage towers, carrying a total of 1 million gallons of water, before the GBRA shut down the plant hours before landfall Aug. 25.

GBRA shut down the plant not because it worried about the storm surge but because it was worried about the high winds damaging the plant. The city didn't use generators to deliver the water it had in its towers to residents. It just needed gravity.

Of course, Port Lavaca's population is about one-fifth of Victoria's so the comparison might not be apt. It is only one data point.

These questions should be asked in every Crossroads community, not just Victoria. In poor Bloomington, only 5 percent of the homes had electricity Friday while wealthier Port O'Connor on the coast had almost all of its power restored. Both towns are served by the same utility company.

These questions are not meant to criticize those who have worked tirelessly during the past week to serve our communities. All of our first responders, utility workers and officials did outstanding work. Most of all, our residents are safe. Incredibly, no one in the Crossroads died.

But whenever a natural disaster occurs, it behooves all of us to ask: What can we do better next time?

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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