To prepare for devastating storms, Texas in 2018 should act like Galveston in 1900, a state report released Thursday argues.
Drawing a direct line between a massive project to raise the island after the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history and Hurricane Harvey, Gov. Greg Abbott’s Commission to Rebuild Texas outlined how the state should prepare for future hurricanes.
After the 1900 Storm, the people of Galveston took future threats seriously, wrote Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, chairman of the commission.
“They elevated an entire island and built a seawall,” Sharp said in the executive summary of the report. “We should recognize that those lessons remain vital and relevant to Texas today.”
The 178-page after-action report, “The Eye of the Storm,” calls for numerous changes in the way Texas responds to storms and puts particular emphasis on preparation.
The report describes Hurricane Harvey as a wake-up call for Texas. The storm, which made landfall Aug. 25, 2017, caused an estimated $125 billion across 53 counties.
The commission recommended the state create a permanent recovery task force made up of extension agents with Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service to be perpetually ready to react to disaster; to make a single website to consolidate information about disaster recovery; and to develop a statewide debris management plan.
As Galveston once future-proofed itself against hurricanes, the rest of the state should now do the same, Sharp said.
“We must make the Texas Gulf Coast — and indeed the entire state — more resilient and better able to withstand future disasters,” he said.
The commission also recommended the state create “systematic coastal protection” on barrier islands like Galveston, including the construction of floodgates and storm surge barriers.
It speaks in positive terms about a proposal for a coastal spine for Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. The coastal spine described in the state report differs from the one that has been the subject of recent public hearings by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The coastal spine in the report would cost $8 billion, and would not include a ring levee around Galveston.
Some of the changes recommended in the report already has been made, Abbott said.
The Texas Department of Emergency Management has been integrated into an emergency management system operated by Texas A&M University, and the state’s emergency management director has been made a vice chancellor in the Texas A&M System.
The report also recommends the state create its own system of enrolling disaster victims for recovery services. Doing that would require permission from federal agencies, Abbott said.
For the most part, the report lauded Texas’ response to the storm. Texas was already a “model for disaster recovery,” Abbott said.
But Texas isn’t perfect at disaster response, Sharp said.
“Our rescue operations are considered the best in the United States of America,” Sharp said. “What we think this will do is make the recovery part of it, the response part of it, the best in the United States of America.”