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Harvey survivors share lessons they learned

September 25, 2018

Representatives of a statewide, faith-based nonprofit met with Katy and Cinco Ranch residents and community leaders to share their Hurricane Harvey experiences and what they learned from the disaster.

Texas Impact conducted the Sept. 18 dialogue group in Cinco Ranch. Texas Impact plans a Sept. 27 meeting at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston and an Oct. 16 meeting at Temple Sinai in west Houston. Visit www.texasimpact.org for more information.

“It was great to be able to come together with different faith-based groups that are working here in the Katy area,” said Chris Harris, Katy City Councilman at-large, who talked about flood-mitigation efforts his city is taking. It was good to hear about different perspectives and challenges, he added. “Moving forward together, we can coordinate responses and give recommendations to state or local officials on how to address future disasters and current recovery efforts.”

Lower income residents who lack insurance and are dependent upon government and faith-based resources are identified as people who could fall through the cracks. “Those are the people we definitely need to look at and help,” he said. “Faith-based organizations can rally troops and go forward in the political process,” he added.

Wendy Duncan, assistant vice president of the Willow Fork Drainage District board, said, “It’s important that we remain steadfast in our efforts to recover from Harvey. It will make us stronger in the future so that we can withstand these storms moving slower and bringing more rain. Government is supposed to work for people.”

Duncan said she loves the Talanoa meetings because it allows her to learn individual stories. “It’s important for me as a community leader to know what’s going on in the community and to remain in touch so I can continue meeting needs where I’m able to.”

From the group sharing, people learned what worked well after Harvey that might be used in other communities to help them recover more quickly, Duncan said.

The Talanoa dialogue focused on three questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? and How do we get there?

Bee Moorhead, director of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said the information will be incorporated in a report about the faith-based response to the hurricane. The center is the research and education partner of Texas Impact.

“It’s not just a recitation of a community’s participation on Harvey. It’s more forward looking. What can we learn? Are there indicators for ways to maximize the value of the community’s gifts and talents in the future?”

In talking about lessons that are durable and transferrable, Moorhead said the report would be delivered to officials at the local and state levels.

“I know the Legislature will talk a lot about disaster response when it meets in January. Hopefully, this is an important piece of the puzzle. I don’t think anyone thinks this discussion will yield one magic bullet to make a community more resilient in the future. It’s important wisdom from the community that can help policymakers as they investigate options.”

Moorhead said the information also will be shared through international portals about climate change. “It’s clear weather patterns are changing and we have to be prepared. It’s an increasing part of global conversation by people all over the world and some in the United States already are experiencing impacts from the changing weather patterns.”

She hastened to add that she doesn’t blame climate change for causing Hurricane Florence which just hit the Carolinas. “Changing weather patterns made it more intense and more catastrophic than it would have been,” she said. “There’s not black and white. It’s all about being prepared for scenarios that are not necessarily predictable. The United States is not immune to catastrophic weather events.”

Moorhead has participated in Talanoa dialogues before. What struck her about the Cinco Ranch meeting was how raw people’s emotions are and how willing they were to share them in a small group setting. One person who talked through tears about life being on hold after Harvey received support from other group members, some of whom also cried.

While local governments are pursuing infrastructure upgrades as a result of Harvey and the flooding it brought, Moorhead said she thought the relationships developed between neighbors and people who didn’t know each other before Harvey may be more important. Research shows that a community’s resilience to disasters has less to do with the hardiness of infrastructures and more to do with the robustness of connections and relationships community members have with each other, she said.

Being an interconnected community is a plus in the recovery efforts, agreed Duncan. “We’re volunteers. We invest in each others’ families. We know our neighbors, the parents of our children’s friends. We are connected. We volunteer in schools. We have relationships established. We’re a community of great faith. We have a lot of churches in our community. The interconnectedness and faith-based response allowed our community to recover more quickly,” said Duncan.

At the same time, she acknowledged that there is no one way for people to recover from an incident of this magnitude and that everyone is in a different situation. “For people who didn’t flood, they’ve gone on,” said Duncan. “There still are a lot of people hurting in our community and needing help.”

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