Journalist Roland S. Martin Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp State Rep. Geanie Morrison and Texas Sen. John Whitmire gave SXSW attendees an inside look at the hurdles that still lie ahead on the road to recovery after Hurricane Harvey.
“Future Proofing” Disaster Recovery
The devastation wrought upon the Texas coast by Hurricane Harvey is still being addressed more than seven months later, but that has not prevented the Texas A&M University System and Texas lawmakers from mitigating or even preventing damage from the next super storm.
Commission to Rebuild Texas Chair and Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, journalist Roland S. Martin, Texas Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), and State Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) laid out the challenges that lie ahead for transforming a state still recovering from Harvey into one that can withstand another devastating weather event.
The illuminating dialogue focused on five areas of response and future-proofing: quantify the suffering Texans are currently experiencing, assessing the unexpected hurdles, developing an infrastructure plan for the future, striking a balance between state and local control and fraud and scam prevention.
For Sharp, the first major step that was taken toward future-proofing after Harvey was assigning the robust network of Texas A&M extension agents to work with local governments who ultimately decide how to use relief and future-proofing funds on a daily basis to ensure they know how to respond in a leadership capacity to a disaster.
“They’re the ones who have to make the choice,” Sharp said. “At the end of the day all of those structures, whether you’re building dams or you’re building levees or razing houses, all are made by county judges or mayors or whatever your jurisdiction is.”
For Whitmire, too much local governance and lack of government funding and planning could hinder recovery and future-proofing efforts long-term
“Less government is catching up with us,” Whitmire said. “We had one of the biggest disasters in the state’s history. Why didn’t we call a special session? Why were we calling committee meetings in Houston and not on the Senate floor? I would like to emphasize when we ask how we do it differently next time, we have to have someone in charge, whether it’s a fine institution like Texas A&M or another entity, somebody has to be in charge. It can’t be a part-time legislature with district and county judges, because local control governs, but maybe local government doesn’t work when you have a disaster.”
Morrison said that while legislators and local governments have a flurry of decisions to make as the recovery process rolls on, residents in disaster areas like Rockport are facing issues that compound by the day.
“We still have a lot of people that don’t have a place to live,” Morrison said. “Not only do you have homes destroyed but you have apartments destroyed along with new hotels and old hotels. Businesses are reopening but they don’t have anyone coming to work because they don’t have a place to live. Then you have workers coming in to clean up, and there’s no place to stay. People are being forced to move further and further away, and sometimes they won’t come back.”
Day 2: Dive Into Texas A&M’s Global Impact
By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Marketing & Communications
Texas A&M followed up its 2017 debut at the SXSW trade show at the Austin Convention Center by offering more opportunities to experience Texas A&M’s research at the “24-Hours Of Global Impact” virtual reality experience.
High visibility on a global stage
The 13-foot-tall exhibit stood above the hundreds of global brands and institutions on the exhibit floor and offered virtual tours of campus, 360 degree videos of Texas A&M researchers abroad and opportunities to win apparel prizes.
The booth, which is open through Wednesday, March 14, was staffed by a group of 64 rotating Texas A&M students who could share Texas A&M’s story directly with visitors as they guided them on their virtual tours.
Building upon last year’s 360 video playlist, which took exhibit visitors to the coral reefs of the island nation of Palau and the JOIDES Resolution research vessel and the Panama Canal, Texas A&M’s emerging media and social media teams added Germany, Kazakhstan London, Peru and NASA as virtual destinations.