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Houston develops data-based approach to disaster recovery

Following Hurricane Harvey, the city realised it needed a more precise understanding of how the storm impacted residents and so embarked on the Harvey Data Project

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Submerged cars in Houston following Hurricane Harvey's assault in 2017
Submerged cars in Houston following Hurricane Harvey's assault in 2017

The city of Houston Housing and Community Development Department has published the Harvey Data Project report, which details a data-based approach for a smarter, more accurate and equitable disaster recovery.

 

After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the city said it recognised that a more precise understanding of how the storm impacted residents that went beyond the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data was required. In response, the city announced the Harvey Data Project as a new way to look at the impact and cost of Harvey.

 

Calculating storm damage

 

The project partners included a team of data scientists from Civis Analytics, flood engineers from Dewberry, and community and geospatial expertise from Knudson. Together, they built a new model for more accurately calculating storm damage.

 

“While a disaster like Harvey may be ‘equal opportunity’ in terms of where the rain fell, it actually deepens inequalities that existed before the storm,” said Tom McCasland, director of the city of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department.

 

“The federal government is supposed to assist those who have the least ability to recover on their own, but federal disaster programmes rely on data that often misses low-income people and people of colour. The Harvey Data Project is a way for us to correct the record and make sure Houstonians get what they need to bounce forward from Hurricane Harvey.”

 

Coordinating closely among several levels of government, the project collected multiple kinds of data related to flooding, real estate, and social vulnerability to build the new model.

“Cities have extremely powerful data at their fingertips but gathering and analysing it in an actionable way is hard to do without the right tools or technical expertise”

The next step is to use data generated in the project to inform programme design in Houston. Houston is also pushing congress and federal agencies to consider new approaches to calculating disaster damage.

 

“Cities have extremely powerful data at their fingertips but gathering and analysing it in an actionable way is hard to do without the right tools or technical expertise,” added Chris Dick, Harvey Data Project lead for Civis Analytics.

 

“With the existing framework of the Harvey Data Project in place, cities across America can more easily, accurately, and fairly recover from future disasters.”

 

The full report is available here. To read more about the city of Houston’s Harvey relief efforts, visit www.recovery.houstontx.gov.

 

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