Hurricane Ike: What We Have Learned and Steps For The Future

Hurricane Ike struck the Texas Gulf Coast on September 13, 2008 as one of the most destructive hurricanes to hit the United States. The storm surge devastated portions of the Houston/Galveston coastal area causing over $30 billion in damage and dozens of deaths. In Galveston, the impact was so serious that an estimated 10,000 residents have not returned. Yet with all this destruction, the Houston/Galveston region is fortunate. If Hurricane Ike had hit 30 to 50 miles down the coast, the devastation would have been remarkable; the cost could easily have exceeded $100 billion and hundreds might have died, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005.

Two years later, hundreds of new houses are being built in hurricane evacuation zones. The nation is becoming increasingly dependent upon the petrochemical industries along the Houston Ship Channel and strategies under consideration to mitigate storm surge will cost billions. There is no doubt that the question of what should be done to protect ourselves while safeguarding economic and environmental interests are incredibly difficult. There are no other issues that have the potential to affect the physical features and social structure of the Upper Coast as does the choice of how to best manage the health, safety and quality of life needs of Texans.

At this critical moment in history and with the generous support of the Houston Endowment, experts at the SSPEED Center are asking some tough questions and discovering some interesting answers. On the basis of our work so far, we have begun to focus upon the temporal element of the community response to hurricanes. While much of the discussion post-Ike has been centered on a large-scale solution termed the “Ike Dike”, we at the SSPEED Center have been struck by the absence of thinking about short-term solutions. A large scale structural alternative will likely require years or decades to construct. As our community develops a response to these threats, we need to keep in mind a shorter time frame for our thinking and for our planning. What are we doing to help our community in the not-too-distant future as well as in the longterm? That’s an important and difficult question.

With this in mind, the SSPEED Center has developed a conference program that is focused as much on the nearer-term as on the longer-term. Our research indicates that for capital intensive structural solutions, it is clear that the community will be left vulnerable by the extended time it takes to design, fund, permit and construct such a major feature. There are better ways to address storm surge and inland flooding, such as a mix of structural and non-structural alternatives that can be employed in less time, and at a lower cost.

The program will be divided into various presentations that will attempt to crystallize both the temporal solutions as well as a range of alternative structural and non-structural solutions.

SSPEED Center at Rice University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
6100 Main MS-317, Houston, Texas 77005-1827
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1892, Houston,Texas 77251-1892
(713)348-4977 or 348-4951
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