By Manu Shah
On July 24, leaders and representatives from over 20 Chambers of Commerce and Indo American organizations listened attentively as Harris County Judge Ed Emmett revisited Hurricane Harvey, its management and the lessons learned.
The visit was arranged by IACCGH at the “epicenter of emergency management” – the state-of-the-art TranStar facility in Houston that allows city officials to manage traffic, evacuation if needed, and emergencies from one central location.
Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia welcomed the wide spectrum of community leaders and stated that the whole purpose of this “exercise was to understand the preparatory efforts by the city in the event of the next hurricane and help spread awareness in other communities.”
President Swapan Dhairyawan thanked Shell for their sponsorship of the event and lauded the “leadership, calmness and positivity” displayed by Judge Ed Emmett and Mayor Sylvester Turner in their handling of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation.
Introducing Judge Ed Emmett, Past President Sanjay Ramabhadran described him as “a household name” and referred to him as “Mr. Hunker Down” – a title earned during Hurricane Ike. As County Judge, he also led multiple trade missions to India in collaboration with the Chamber and it was due to his efforts that the world’s largest tractor company, Mahindra, located and expanded its facility in Harris County.
As County Judge, Judge Emmett is the Director of Harris County’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management and is responsible for 4.7 million people. In a riveting address, he shed light on how the city handled Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall triggered flooding crisis.
Hurricanes are never easy but Hurricane Harvey, he stated, “was a completely different sort of activity.” Meteorologists had predicted 20 inches of rain but Houston was pounded with 50 inches. Predesignated shelters were opened for those who had to flee their homes and NRG and George Brown Convention Center filled up within hours. A personal appeal on television to boat owners to rescue those who were stranded in their homes turned out to be a lifesaver for hundreds of people. Unanticipated snags surfaced, but the key to emergency management, the Judge emphasized was “having the right people, the right assets” and working closely with Mayor Sylvester Turner “because people want one clear voice.”
The “real heroes” the Judge declared, were the ordinary day people who voluntarily waded knee deep in water to rescue people.
On a drive home, the sight of the heaped piles of debris on both sides of the streets struck him that this was “not just debris but people’s lives.” He’s determined to protect Harris County residents from being put “in the same situation again” and is pushing for support for a 2.5 billion bond proposal that would fund flood protection projects in Houston.
Hurricane Harvey also exposed all the natural water flow paths across the county that need to be corrected. 160,000 homes were flooded and of those 105,000 had no flood insurance because they were unaware that they were in the flood line. The inflicted damages are estimated at $125 billion. The Judge anticipated the process of rebuilding Houston to be completed by 2020 – 21.