Newswise — The Gulf of Mexico Alliance works across the region addressing issues of human, economic, and ecological resilience.  Here, we share success stories from our partners.  In no way do we want to diminish the long recovery ahead following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.  But, however small they may be, we want to highlight things that worked.

Dunes Provide Natural Protection

Dunes provide natural protection from erosion and storm surge that comes with damaging weather systems. They absorb the impact of high waves delaying or preventing inland flooding. During Hurricane Harvey, the dune system in Nueces County stood strong against 120-130 mph wind and crippling waves. Scott Cross, Nueces County Coastal Parks System, noted that the dune system did its job well.

Healthy dune complex coupled with a healthy beach profile and maintenance practices resulted in very little impacts to the dunes and no breach of dune structures, further protecting residential and commercial properties. Although adjacent communities did experience flooding, it was not because of a dune breach. Scott attributes this to how they do beach maintenance and their dune protection standards under the State Dune Protection Act. Nueces County and the City of Port Aransas work very closely with their State partner the Texas General Land Office and resources at Texas A&M Corpus Christi's Heart Research Institute and Conrad Blucher Institute to achieve this level of success.

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance and its partners work to transfer best practices for optimum habitat restoration and coastal resilience. Validating these successes is important to demonstrating these techniques and furthering their implementation across the Gulf region.


Preliminary Results Indicate Building Codes Play Large Role in Resilience

On August 16, 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall as a category 5 hurricane in Homestead, Florida. The devastation was unsurpassed by any storm to that date.  As a result, the State of Florida began to develop and enforce stricter building standards. Hurricane Irma tested these requirements earlier this month. As Florida homeowners assess the damage, a pattern is emerging:  homes built to the post-Andrew codes seem to have fared far better.  One after another, anecdotal stories from the Florida Keys, Naples, Miami-Dade County, and others indicate that older homes suffered severe damage from wind and flooding built to minimal standards. The homes built to the newer, stronger standards were relatively intact and livable during post-storm recovery.   The yards of most post-Andrew homes looked as if bombs went off, but the structures themselves were safe and secure.

“A strong building code that is truly enforced makes a significant difference in the resilience of a community,” said Julie Shiyou-Woodard, President and CEO of Smart Home America. “Data collected from the damage assessments from Hurricane Irma and these stories from homeowners will prove that. We’ve known how build to avoid a disaster. It takes strong and fearless leaders to choose to be resilient.”

These building codes are now some of the strictest in the country and the model for which many regional standards. Building code improvements included upgraded frame construction standards, new roofing designs, and improved impact-resistant windows.  The GOMA Coastal Resilience Team developed Homeowner’s Handbooks for each of the Gulf states. The Homeowner’s Handbook to Prepare for Natural Disasters explains the forces of nature that act on structures during storms.  It also lays out relatively easy things that homeowners can do to minimize or negate the effects of high winds, heavy rain, and storm surge.  More information on Homeowner’s Handbooks is available on the GOMA publications page.


Volunteers Play A Central Role in Hurricane Recovery

When major hurricanes and devastating floods strike, volunteers are a key component of relief and recovery efforts.  They provide immediate manpower to serve meals, remove debris, return power, and other critical essentials to return to normalcy.  Founded in 1970, the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) provides a forum for cooperation, communication, and coordination for the effective delivery of services to communities affected by disaster.  VOAD members include those we all know, like Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity, and many we may not.  Currently, VOAD members have their hands full as they are responding to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Read more about unique volunteer efforts including pet support, bass boat rescues, laundry services, and more:

    Five days rather than five weeks – Immediately after Hurricane Harvey unloaded record rainfall across Houston, Mormon Helping Hands canvassed the hardest-hit areas with more than 20,000 volunteers to gut homes, remove drywall, and drag furniture to the street.  The work stops the immediate decline of the home’s condition, allowing residents to remain in their homes and buys them time to hire contractors.  In Cypress, Texas, for example, an entire neighborhood was cleaned by Mormon Helping Hands in just five days.  Public affairs director, Tami Maloney, commented that homeowners expect to remediate for weeks but are relieved when our volunteers do it in a matter of hours.

    Pet Support – A valuable lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina was that evacuating people did not want to be separated from their companion animals. In other situations, shelters were inundated with lost or abandoned pets. Coordinated efforts often excluded these animals. The rules have changed. Located in the Florida Keys, Big Dog Ranch Rescue is the largest no kill dog rescue in the southeast.  As a result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma, Big Dog Ranch Rescue has been conducting daily airlifts of pet supplies for animals in the Keys.  It is the primary source of dog and cat food and cat litter while there is no power and no access to stores during the recovery.

    Bass Boat Rescues – As a result of large coastal flooding events, first responders have been increasingly inundated with calls for help. Local, state, and federal resources were stretched to capacity during the unprecedented flooding across Houston, southeast Texas, and southwest Louisiana.  Working alongside the first responders was the Cajun Navy, a volunteer online effort that brings bass boats and pirogues to help with search and rescue efforts.  Formed during Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago, this grass-roots citizen’s organization has assisted flood-stricken residents escape rising waters in the 2016 floods in Louisiana as well as Hurricane Harvey floods in Texas.

    Laundry Services – Located in one of the hardest hit areas of Houston, Memorial Drive United Methodist Church serves as a central service center to the surrounding flooded area.  In addition to providing tools and supplies, the church also provides daily meals to volunteers, helps with packing and moving, and provides a unique laundry service where church members will take in laundry, wash it, and return it to local home owners in the midst of flood recovery. Religious organizations are often first on the scene following natural disasters delivering much needed supplies and helping hands.

    Power Up – Restoring electricity is often the first step toward normalcy after a hurricane.  This month, tens of thousands of line workers, forestry crews, and electrical contractors descended upon Texas and Florida to do just that.  Utility employees from 20+ companies in 30 states and from as far away as the Pacific northwest and New England stepped away from their daily routines and families to make the journey to devastated areas.  Coming to remove trees and limbs and repairing transmission lines, these volunteer workers are usually assigned on two-week rotations, staying in shelters and volunteer facilities.  The reward for providing this critical service is the excitement shown by locals when power company trucks start showing up in their neighborhood.


Gulf Ports Show Coordinated Response to Recovery Efforts

The State of Florida has 15 public seaports that play a critical role in the State’s economy and lives of its citizens. There are seven Gulf of Mexico ports. Florida depends on its major ports to deliver the bulk of the motor fuels consumed each day. One of the huge impacts to the State in preparation for Hurricane Irma was the evacuation of millions of residents. The demand this put on the petroleum industry left large areas of the State without gas and created huge lines of evacuees waiting to get much-needed fuel.

Tim Osborn, Navigation Manager for NOAA’s Office of Coastal Survey, was aboard the ATB Courage when it delivered 125,000 barrels of gasoline and 50,000 barrels of diesel fuel to the State of Florida on September 14th. Mr. Osborn reported that the work by the Tampa Pilots in collaboration with the Ports, NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard, State, Terminals, and Federal and Local Partners was very coordinated. The high level of cooperation expedited response which allowed for the reopening of critical fuel supplies to Florida. Mr. Osborn noted that seeing the fuel coming from the Marathon Refinery on the Mississippi River all the way to the Marathon fuel terminal in Port Tampa demonstrated the interdependence that coastal states share with one another and the nation.

Efforts in Texas following Hurricane Harvey experienced similar organization and cooperation. The Port of Corpus Christi is the 4th largest port in the United States (by tonnage) and was able to reopen quickly and safely due to established protocols. Through the coordinated efforts of NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Corpus Christi pilots, port staff, and U.S. Navy, the port reopened on August 31st after being shut down for six days. It allowed for the safe berthing of more than 20 vessels that were waiting for their assignments. The reopening also made it possible for seven local refiners to resume operations which is critical for reducing impacts to the state’s economy.

All public and most private ports have standard operating procedures. These measures allow for efficient use of limited staff and resources to address a crisis. The Gulf of Mexico Alliance Coastal Resilience Team, in coordination with Sea Grant, developed a Ports Resilience Index. The self-assessments help smaller ports internally review their operating procedures to be better prepared for future disasters.