Rice Gets Grant to Study Hurricane Impact

Rice University is getting a one-and-a-quarter million dollar grant to study the full impact of hurricanes, and what governments and people should do to be ready the next time a hurricane hits. Jim Bell reports.

The grant from Houston Endowment goes to the Rice center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters — or SSPEED for short.  Rice environmental law professor Jim Blackburn says even though Hurricane Ike didn't hit Houston directly, it still caused a lot of damage — and revealed a wide range of vulnerabilities. Blackburn says it showed we have to start thinking beyond evacuating people, and about what will need to be done after the storm.

"The concept of evacuations is great, but we haven't done nearly as much as we need to on what happens after the storm hits. The potential for damage in this region is substantial. Depending on what the track of the storm is we could easily have a hundred thousand homes damaged if not destroyed."

Blackburn says the SSPEED center will look for better methods of predicting a storm's impact, especially the storm surge and inland flooding, which cause most of the death and destruction in hurricanes. They'll look at better land use and development practices, and what industry can do to protect critical infrastructure in areas vulnerable to storm surge and flooding.  Blackburn says it's time for coastal areas to stop reacting and be pro-active in dealing with hurricanes.

"This is really a study about steps that need to be taken to be proactive about the risk to this region posed by a big flood event from hurricane surge, which is the biggest unrecognized risk in this part of the world."

Blackburn says the goal of the two year study is to produce recommendations on how all levels of government and industry can be better prepared for surviving hurricanes. 

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.