From Surviving to Thriving -- The National Environmental Policy Act and Disasters

by Joel Mintz | September 21, 2018

This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.

In August, 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought widespread devastation to the southeastern United States, destroying buildings, flooding neighborhoods, and taking lives. Harvey shattered the national rainfall record for a single storm, dropping over 50 inches of rain in a 36-hour period. The Houston area suffered massive flooding, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attempted to balance flooding behind strained older retention dams while releasing water to avoid dam breaches.

However, even before the unprecedented rainfall of Hurricane Harvey, severe problems had been noted at the dams. In 2016, the Army Corps noted that the dams needed repair and that a failure would be catastrophic. The federal government concluded that the dams were in critical condition in 2009. The Army Corps had multiple opportunities to evaluate the state of the dams decades before the problem reached crisis level.

In fact, despite raising the dams, rebuilding the gates, and creating various additional outflows, the Corps never did an environmental impact assessment, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The Corps’ last major construction on the dams in 2015 cost more than $100 million, but the project ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Hazardous Waste and Disaster Preparedness

by Victor Flatt | September 20, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. What Happened According to the Houston Chronicle, there were more than 100 releases of hazardous substances into land, air, and water during and after Hurricane Harvey. At least one dozen of the Superfund sites listed in or near Houston were flooded during the storm. On September 3, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged breaches at 13 ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Emergency Waiver of Health, Safety, and Environmental Rules

by Victor Flatt | September 19, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. On August 23, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas Coast. That state of emergency was ultimately expanded to 60 counties in Texas. Emergency declarations in Texas (as in many states and for the federal government) allow the governor to unilaterally suspend specific rules and regulations if they are ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Worker Health and Disaster

by Katie Tracy | September 18, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. Lachlan Brain, a 22-year-old electrical lineman from Tennessee, traveled to Houston following Hurricane Harvey to help with the relief effort, working for T&D Solutions, a company that specializes in maintaining and repairing power lines and related equipment. While working inside a bucket truck on August 25, 2017, Brain leaned across an electrical line, came into contact with a ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Stormwater Infrastructure and Management: Unsafe for Human Contact

by Evan Isaacson | September 17, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. As millions of Americans in Houston and throughout Florida and Puerto Rico are acutely aware, the most dangerous aspect of a hurricane is the water. In Houston, the 50 inches of water that fell over the course of a few days broke records and overwhelmed the city’s flood control system. In Florida, Hurricane Irma’s storm surge ravaged coastal ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Energy Infrastructure: Beyond Repair

by Joseph Tomain | September 14, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. We have seen the pictures before. A man and his dog, both wet and disheveled, gliding down the middle of a residential street in a rowboat past downed power lines. As they drift, they pass the tops of cars parked at the curb, immobile. As they drift further, they see a woman and child standing on the roof ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Relocation and Migration

by Maxine A Burkett | September 13, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. The 2017 hurricane season demonstrated the “second disaster” phenomenon. Climate-fueled storms are the first, named disaster. The second disaster is the tragedy that results from the lack of preparedness of decision-makers — at all levels — who have failed to plan in a manner consistent with the risks presented.  Perhaps few phenomena underscore that more than the post-disaster ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- State and Local Planning

by Alice Kaswan | September 12, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. Three months before Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the state relaxed what many had considered to be one of the best building codes in the country. That wasn’t an anomaly. A report by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety found that many states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts either lack building codes or have relaxed ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- The National Flood Insurance Program: Back to the Future

by Christine Klein | September 11, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Eileen and Jeff Swanson faced the unthinkable. They had just paid off the last of the mortgage on their $225,000 home in the Canyon Gate neighborhood of Houston, where they lived with two sons, one of whom is severely developmentally disabled. During the storm, a foot of water inundated their home, and ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- FEMA and Disaster Resilience

by Daniel Farber | September 10, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. “No power, no water, no transport, roads were closed, many streets broken, houses destroyed and people crying.” Those were the words of Maria Meléndez, the mayor of Ponce, the largest city in southern Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. She had good reason to complain. As pointed out in the Economist, “[e]ven ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Federal Resilience Standards

by Daniel Farber | September 07, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. On August 15, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to expedite federal infrastructure-related decisions by allowing only 90 days for permit decisions and cutting back on flood safety requirements. Enthusiastic Republicans hailed the step. For instance, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) said he was “thrilled by Mr. Trump’s decision.” He dismissed catastrophic flooding in Louisiana the previous year ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Adaptation Planning and Resilience: All Hands on Deck

by Alice Kaswan | September 06, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. By the end of the 2017 hurricane season, the American people were reeling from the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The press documented the familiar cycle of compassion, frustration, and anger. As people suffered for days, weeks, and months in communities that were flooded, without power, and in need of food and other basic supplies, the ...

From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery

by Sidney Shapiro | September 05, 2018
This is the first in a series of posts from CPR's new From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report and provides a preview of the preface and executive summary. From September 6-26, CPR will post a new chapter from the report each weekday on CPRBlog. The full report, including a downloadable PDF, will also be available on CPR's website. Preface: An Ounce of Prevention The story is now familiar. An area of the United States is battered by ...

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