Hurricanes Harvey and Lane – One Year, Two Storms, and Important Lessons

Hurricanes Harvey and Lane – One Year, Two Storms, and Important Lessons

August 27, 2018

August 27th, 2018 – This past Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the day Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the middle of Texas’s gulf coast. On August 25th, 2017 the tropical depression that had grown into a Category 4 hurricane in about only forty hours slammed into Texas’s coast.

Unfortunately, unlike most hurricanes, Hurricane Harvey’s movement slowed to a crawl and stalled over the Texas coast for days, dumping record-breaking amounts of rain down on Texas cities and towns, in some areas totaling 60 inches. This constant deluge brought about major and flash flooding in multiple areas of the Texas coast until Harvey made final landfall in Louisiana and died out on August 30th.

As Harvey was approaching the Texas coast, Healthcare Ready activated our Emergency Operations Center, tracking supply chain and healthcare needs. In the beginning, our command center pushed out live updates and worked closely with supply chain partners to coordinate deliveries of critically needed medical supplies. This meant securing helicopters and other unconventional modes of transportation. Harvey’s historic rainfall meant traditional ground methods were not an option, at least for a time. This record rainfall and subsequent flooding had cascading effects on healthcare – from flooded facilities, public health concerns like mold, and challenges to patient transportation and evacuation.

Hurricane Harvey is currently on record as the “most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event in US history [concerning] scope and rainfall amounts”. Exactly one year later, it seemed Hurricane Lane sought to match or break that record through the end of Harvey’s anniversary.

Last week, it appeared that there could be more than a few similarities between the storms. Hurricane Lane developed from a tropical storm into a hurricane in only six hours on August 17th. On August 22nd, Lane came dangerously close to the Hawai’ian islands, moving Hawai’i County from a hurricane watch to a hurricane warning. Through the weekend, like Harvey, Lane stalled close to land, dumping torrential rainfall. We, along with emergency manager partners across the country, were preparing for worst – Harvey demonstrated the challenges a powerful, but stalled, storm could have on coastal communities.

While Lane did not make landfall in Hawai’i, there were torrential downpours over multiple islands which has caused flash flooding and landslides, resulting in roadway and infrastructure damage. In addition to record rainfall, Lane whipped up storm surges, or a rising of the sea level due to a weather event, of around 4 feet.

Once the threat of landfall passed, the local and national feeling around Hurricane Lane relaxed but remained vigilant. Lane was downgraded to a tropical depression at the start of this week, though we and our partners continued to closely monitor the system.

As grateful as everyone was to see Lane turn away from Hawai’i, the wind has not completely let up and the rain has yet to stop. Lane is still on her way to breaking Harvey’s precipitation records, but supply chains, life-safety operations, and healthcare remain stable.

Hurricane Lane presented an opportunity for the emergency management community to use what we’ve learned from the recovery efforts after Harvey, and the trifecta of disaster relief challenges in the Gulf states last year, to improve response and recovery efforts. As many of the after-action calls today have echoed, many of the lessons learned from last year seem to have taken.

It is important that we refrain from ‘preparing for the last event,’ though. Lane had many similarities to Harvey but was a distinct event that presented its own potential challenges. As we continue through peak hurricane season, the Healthcare Ready team is striking a balance of drawing on lessons learned from past events, without depending on them. Just as preparedness is a moving target, so are response plans, and in exactly a one-year span, Harvey and Lane reminded us of this.

Sarah Baker, MPP

Sarah Baker is the Programs Director at Healthcare Ready. In this capacity, she leads the policy development, research, and programmatic efforts to the organization's preparedness initiatives. Prior to joining Healthcare Ready, Sarah served as a consultant to the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of private sector organizations, during which time she supported the design, conduct, and evaluation of scores of preparedness exercises. Sarah received her Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and holds a B.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame.