Risk Assessment of Houston, Texas, United States of America

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Table of contents

  1. Risk from the Hurricane Harvey
  2. Mitigation and Adaptation Measures.
  3. References

Houston is one of the greatest cities in the world boasting of a strong economy, diverse culture and high quality of life. Houston is the sixth largest metro economy in the US with a Gross Domestic Product of $478.6 billion, which ranks as the world’s 23rd largest economy. Houston is primarily US petrochemical capital and the world capital for oil and gas. As well, Houston is a hub for manufacturing with over 10,700 manufacturing establishments. Houston is a leading export market in the US, with oil and gas equipment, chemicals and petroleum products being the main export merchandise. Houston is a hub for recreation, arts, and sports. Houston is home to the 2nd largest concentration of Fortune 1000 companies in the US. Houston prides in being the birthplace for nanotechnology and Johnson Space Center. The city hosts iconic centers such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Bayou Place, Toyota Center, and the NRG stadium (Greater Houston Partnership, 2018).

With an estimated population of 2.3million people, Houston is the second most populous metropolitan in Texas and the fifth most populous metropolitan area in the US. Houston is a multiracial, multicultural and religious city. The Hispanic community is the most populous race accounting for 42.7% of the total population, the Asian community is the least populous accounting for 6%, while the African American and Whites equally accounting for 25.7%, Whites accounting for 25.65%. The proximity to Latin America and the low cost of living makes Houston an attraction point for immigrants fueling the multiculturalism. A majority of the population are Christians who are mainly protestants (US Census Bureau, 2019).

Houston is a city in Texas occupying a total area of 1,620 km2 (627 square miles) with much of the city located on the gulf coastal plain. Houston is characterized by flat terrain, swamps, forest land, and marshes. The metropolitan has150 faults running through the city and suspected land sinking in the Southeast region. The low-permeability clay-silt prairie soils and flat topography increases the risk of major flooding which has consecutively been experienced since 2015. Houston has a humid subtropical climate with mild winters and long, hot and humid summers (Greater Houston Partnership, 2018).

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Risk from the Hurricane Harvey

A report by Zurich Insurance, ISET-International, & Global Disaster Preparedness Center (2018) Hurricane Harvey resulted in the second-costliest cyclone in the US with the flooding yielding a cumulative $125 billion damage which is equivalent to a third of the economy of Houston. According to Amadeo (2019) the storm left 88 people dead, 204,000 homes damaged and 13 million people extensively affected. The damaging impact of the flooding is relatively higher in Houston compared to other metropolitans in the US. The tropical storm resulting from the Hurricanes has been increasing with each incidence since 2005. Consequently, catastrophic flooding and property destruction were subsequently reported, with a third of Houston being flooded (Amadeo, 2019).

According to Zurich Insurance et al., (2018), storm surge such as Hurricane Harvey extensively affect utilities such as water systems, drainage system and electrical system which has a ripple effect on the economy. For example, Hurricane Harvey left 800 wastewater treatment facilities flooded resulting to spread of raw sewage, toxic chemicals and industrial sludge spreading into the flooded areas. Chemical spills were reported by up to 36 industrial facilities with an estimated 1 million pounds of deadly pollutants leaking into the water bodies. The toxic leakage in the water leakages to the oceans contaminating marine life. The oil and gas infrastructure was equally affected. The storm forced a shutdown of 25% of the oil and gas production facilities which is equivalent to 5% of US oil and gas production capacity. Subsequently, there was a surge in the price of oil and gas (Amadeo, 2019).

Mitigation and Adaptation Measures.

Zurich Insurance et al., (2018) report cautions that with global warming worsening by the day, storms such as Hurricane Harvey are expected to be frequent and with higher impact. The impact is expected to be higher in a City like Houston that is built on a multi-hazard landscape of low-lying zones with clay soils and meandering bayous. The consequence of Global warming has been an increase in sea levels to 6 inches in Houston relative to 20 years ago and stalled weather patterns that influence the dynamism of the storms. Climatologist account 38% of the destructive rainfall during Hurricane Harvey as a consequence of Climate Change. Therefore, it’s evident that deadly, destructive and costly natural disasters such as hurricanes will persist if climate change is not reversed. Therefore, cities such as Houston have to invest in both resilience and mitigation measures.

The drainage infrastructure is arguably one of the facilities that were affected by the flooding. As well, the poor drainage infrastructures accounts as the accelerating factors for the devastating flooding disaster in Houston. The poor infrastructures without resilient runoff landscape could not withstand the storm surge resulting in devastating flooding. Zurich Insurance et al., (2018) recommends the adoption of adopting a natural drainage system where homes are constructed in relatively higher highpoints and better built-environment aesthetics would ensure improved stormwater runoff quality, promoting Houston resilience to the flooding effects of storms. The mitigation and adaptation measures involve a mix of funding, regulatory environment, and rapid infrastructure development.

One such measure is the regulation of the flood plains. 33 % of the structures affected by the Hurricane in Houston were within 500- year flood elevation, while Houston floodplain regulations mandated structures within the 100-year floodplain elevation to at least be one foot elevated (Zurich Insurance et al., 2018). The increase in city’s floodplain demystifies the need for the floodplain elevation regulation to ensure resilience to future cyclones.

References

  • Amadeo, K. (2019, 01 20). Hurricane Harvey Facts, Damage and Cost. Retrieved from The Balance: https://www.thebalance.com/hurricane-harvey-facts-damage-costs-4150087
  • Greater Houston Partnership. (2018). The Economy at a Glance: Houston. Houston: Greater Houston Partnership.
  • US Census Bureau. (2019, 04 02). QuickFacts Houston City, Texas. Retrieved from United States Census Bureau: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/houstoncitytexas/PST045218
  • Zurich Insurance, ISET-International, & Global Disaster Preparedness Center. (2018). Houston and Hurricane Harvey: A Call to Action. Houston: Zurich, ISET International & Global Disaster Preparedness Center.
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