Hazard: Hurricane Ike (2008)
Mac, Henry, Sam, Taylor
Trajectory and storm category of Hurricane Ike (“Story Map Journal”)
At the end of August 2008, Ike formed near Africa’s west coast, and was upgraded to hurricane status on September 3rd. Several days later, Ike made landfall as a category 4 hurricane on the Turks and Caicos Islands. Ninety-five percent of the houses on Grand Turk and South Caicos Islands were damaged. Seventy to eighty percent of the houses on the Great Inagua Island were also damaged and 25% were virtually destroyed. Over 2.5 million Cubans were evacuated before Ike hit the eastern side of the island, severely damaging crops (banana, coffee, corn) and roadways. Galveston, Texas was the site of the hurricane’s final landfall on September 13th (“2008- Hurricane Ike”; “Story Map Journal”). Although downgraded to a category 2 hurricane, Ike had a category 5 storm surge which flattened most structures on the Bolivar Peninsula and caused significant erosion of Galveston beaches. High winds broke windows on Houston skyscrapers and caused power outages to some coastal residents for over a month (“2008- Hurricane Ike”). Nearly 10,000 people were left jobless due to structural damage to buildings and businesses. In addition, thousands of ranch animals were killed and Louisiana’s seafood industry suffered losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The adverse effects of Ike also impacted the oil and gas industry along the Gulf Coast. Pipelines and offshore oil rigs were destroyed and 22 Texas-based oil refineries were shut down which caused an increase in gas prices to almost $5 per gallon (“Story Map Journal”). Making its way through the midwest, the final effects of Ike were felt in Canada. The storm caused an electrical malfunction in the Montreal subway system and brought record rainfall to Ontario (“2008- Hurricane Ike”). In the end with wind speeds reaching 145 mph, Hurricane Ike was ultimately responsible for nearly 200 deaths, 112 were in the United States, and approximately $35 billion in property damage across Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas (“2008- Hurricane Ike”; “Story Map Journal”).
“2008- Hurricane Ike.” Hurricanes,
“Story Map Journal.” Arcgis.com,
(“Story Map Journal”) (Krauss & Mckinley 2008)
Hurricane Ike received extensive coverage, especially on September 13, 2008, after it made landfall in Texas. One article, titled “Storm Damage is Extensive and Millions Lose Power,” appeared in the New York Times. Over two million residents in coastal Texas and Louisiana fled in anticipation of the hurricane, while more than 100,000 disregarded the mandatory evacuation. When this article was published, only four deaths had been reported, but the reporter acknowledged that it could be several days before the full extent of damage was assessed. The article also described damage to major cities in Texas which included sheets of steel pulled from skyscrapers, the main highways covered in debris, and at least 100,000 houses flooded. In addition, more than three million people were left without power, and experts predicted restoration could take weeks (Krauss & Mckinley 2008). A few days later, on September 15, 2008, an article called “U.S. Death Toll from Hurricane Ike Rises to 33,” was published by CBC News. By this time, Hurricane Ike had moved into the midwest. The death toll reported in this article was significantly higher than the previous article. Two days after hitting Texas, there were 33 reported deaths across nine states. The CBC News article confirmed the material impact reported by the Times, namely that millions were without power and thousands were in temporary shelters after their houses were destroyed (“U.S. Death Toll from Hurricane Ike” 2008). On October 4, 2008, the New York Times reported an update titled “Three Weeks After Storm, a Grim Task of Recovery.” The focus of the article was efforts to save stranded residents. Volunteers and rescue workers used dogs to find human remains, but officials feared that some victims were lost to the sea and marshes. Hurricane Ike left coastal areas in ruins as debris from houses, cars, and machinery were scattered across the land (Mckinley 2008). Collectively, these articles reveal that following Hurricane Ike’s landfall in Texas, there was an increase in details and extent of damage as officials gathered more information and rescue teams searched debris.
Krauss, Clifford, and James C. Mckinley. “Storm Damage Is Extensive and Millions Lose
Power.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2008,
Mckinley, James C. “Three Weeks After Storm, a Grim Task of Recovery.” The New
York Times, The New York Times, 4 Oct. 2008,
“U.S. Death Toll from Hurricane Ike Rises to 33 | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio
Canada, 15 Sept. 2008,
Hurricane Ike exposed many vulnerabilities in the communities that were affected by the storm. One main vulnerability that was observed in many communities was the lack of preparation for flooding. Many homes were destroyed that were at the previous BFE or Base Flood Elevation (Mitigation). By increasing this minimum requirement, homes could be more resilient to flooding on a major level as what happened during Hurricane Ike. Foundations of many homes were also found to be very weak and thus, many ended up collapsing during the storm. This was mainly due to erosion from the storm and the lack of embedment of the foundation poles (Mitigation). Some lessons learned, according to FEMA, were to elevate critical facilities such as schools and hospitals, which were previously prone to flooding and to remove aggregate roofs from buildings in downtown Houston, which have a tendency to throw rocks around during strong wind events, potentially causing damage to nearby buildings and people. These cities were not as prepared as they originally thought when it came to flooding, the policies put into place after Hurricane Rita were meant to prevent major losses from future hazards but many of these policies were not as strong as they could be. In lower income neighborhoods, many homes only passed the basic requirements when it came to BFE. These homes were heavily damaged during the storm as a result. Minorities suffered greater degrees of loss during the storm. In many cases, families lost everything. Property values in these lower income neighborhoods took longer to recover from the storm (Van Zandt). Many residents living in these low income neighborhoods that were heavily affected by the storm were displaced. This is the result of not having the funds to rebuild, therefore residents had to move somewhere else, away from their homes (Van Zandt). The lack of disaster preparation in these communities lead to the failure of these systems during Hurricane Ike. The most vulnerable were exposed to the worst elements of the storm without any system of support. There was little room for error when Hurricane Ike made landfall. It was the ultimate test of resiliency and many vulnerabilities were exposed in these communities.
“Mitigation Assessment Team Report on Hurricane Ike.” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1708-25045-9713/hurricane_ike_mat__short.pdf
Van Zandt, Shannon. “Poor and Minority Impacts from Hurricane Ike.” Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center, Texas A&M, https://hrrc.arch.tamu.edu/_common/documents/poor%20and%20minority%20impacts.pdf
One issue that arises during the communication stage of disaster response is overloading of information. There are many agencies and departments trying to convey information, and it can be overwhelming to both the physical equipment and the population. Important messages can get lost and unimportant information can be frequently repeated when this initial surge of information begins. Furthermore, it is difficult for people in crisis to break down complex messages and store complicated information, especially when presented with a lot of it. Agencies must quickly collaborate and coordinate messaging ensuring that only the most crucial information is shared as concisely as possible. The John Space Center post-hurricane analysis suggested that agencies should limit themselves to 1-2 sentences per agency (JSC). This helps prevent information overload and makes sure only the most important information is conveyed. Having an interdepartmental collaboration task force established before the storm season and communicating regularly during the storm/response can help mitigate this information overload.
Another major issue was efficiently examining and reporting damage and preparing a response. Many homes were visited more than necessary and data was incompletely or inaccurately reported due to poor planning and resource management. Having a comprehensive data reporting and organization method prepared beforehand will greatly aid recovery time. This includes contingency plans for damaged equipment or infrastructure such as cell towers or power lines. There should also be a detailed procedure for how to collect the data, including the order it should be collected and how it should be shared with a central database to avoid duplication. This plan should be reviewed before every storm season to make sure it is updated and applicable to the current environment.
Finally, there were reports of skepticism among residents about how serious the hurricane would be (Tolson). The area is frequently issued storm and hurricane warnings, many of which prove inconsequential. As a result, many people were unprepared for the storm and did not do enough to prepare. Improving dialogue between officials and individuals in the community about the seriousness of the storms and educating about the dangers associated with non-compliance with orders is essential in preparation for disaster. Building trust within the community can ensure that everyone understands the magnitude of the situation and trusts that officials are acting in their best interest. Individuals should also have an action plan and understand how to monitor the storm and react accordingly. Developing these programs and fostering trust and education within the community will help facilitate quicker and more effective responses to further hurricanes.
JSC Hurricane Ike Lessons Learned Report. Office of the Director, Johnson Space Center, May 2009, https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/outreach/final_ike_report.pdf.
Tolson, Mike. “5 Lessons We Could Learn from Hurricane Ike.” Houston Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, 5 Aug. 2011, https://www.chron.com/news/hurricanes/article/5-lessons-we-could-learn-from-Hurricane-Ike-1731517.php.
Certainly no strategy for greater preparedness will come without complications and setbacks. It is the nature of a hurricane to create issues, whether that is minimal (knocking power out for a few hours), or well beyond an inconvenience, in the case of a loss of life. Even without perfect strategies there are always improvements to be made.
Information overload can be minimized by limiting agencies to 1-2 sentences to communicate what they have to, and a task force can be an ideal way to ensure agencies meet that guideline and do not share conflicting or overlapping information. For putting this strategy into practice we move beyond the theoretical and deal with the problem of each storm being different and therefore presenting different challenges. Some agencies may see communicating with the public as essential to their mission, while others may find that less important to their role. Agencies involved with bringing power back on line or distributing rations may require more than the recommended 2 sentences to address everything they need to. Agencies that are more interested in monetary aid distribution or coordination may find public communication less necessary. Possible solutions could be a cap on overall public communication so that the public isn’t overwhelmed yet agencies who need the extra space for information are not limited. Another idea is to have the task force assess individual storms and decide on communication limits through this analysis.
Creating contingency plans and having a centralized data reporting system can create less confusion but it can also lead to increased confusion. Collecting data in a central database can overwhelm individual agencies who only require a fraction of the data being collected and it would cause a backlog of data requests. Contingency plans may also be unable to foresee all scenarios. Having data distribution plans and a system for requesting data from a central location may be able to minimize these potential issues.
It is essential to make sure information is communicated and the public trusts that information. It is necessary to give out warnings even when they are ultimately unnecessary because storm predictions are not 100% accurate, but this means people immediately underestimate the next storm. Building trust is important but one program to build trust will not get the job done. Some areas may require different forms of outreach. Those in housing that is not built for storm resistance may need to take greater heed of warnings than others and their needs for preparation will differ as well. To minimize this imbalance in community outreach it may be necessary for a neighborhood by neighborhood trust building program rather than a general storm awareness program.