Texas National Guard in Houston
The Texas National Guard assists flooding victims in Houston. National Guard photo

John F. McGuire

Who can we blame? Is that the normal comment made after the horrific disasters we witnessed in Texas and Florida?

It is not who can we blame, but what can we learn and how may we better prepare. What did you learn from the storms for the future? What should I have done? As tragic and overwhelming as these storms truly were, there is the need to embrace and understand they will happen again and determine what steps to take to minimize loss of life, loss of property, and personal devastation.

Rebuilding activity after these hurricanes will escalate nationally with the increased demand for labor and building materials. Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area, and Irma destroyed homes and businesses across Florida, as well as damaged properties throughout the Southeast with high winds and flooding that reached all the way to the Carolinas. Category 5 hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

While damage from Irma alone is still being assessed, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation has reported claims totaling approximately $2 billion have been filed, including 12,000 claims by commercial property owners. Estimates of property damage in Texas, including those from Moody’s, JP Morgan, Enki Research and Goldman Sachs, vary from $35 billion to $90 billion.

Amid these phenomenal disasters, residents must now begin to take hold and ask themselves “what more can we do?” The genuine sympathy factor is high at the present time. Entertainers have held benefit events for the victims; football players and other sports celebrities have passionately commenced the same thing. Politicians jumped on the bandwagon to get billions of dollars for the Florida and Texas victims. As per usual, lawsuits seeking monetary solutions will always be filed, regardless of merit or potential resolution.

Overall flood damage to Houston’s industrial and office properties wasn’t as extensive as it could have been because of changes made to the city’s bayous and drainage systems after tropical storm Allison in 2001. Developers noted new office development over the past 20 years has occurred along major transportation arteries, which tend to be located on higher ground.

Higher gas prices, store closings and flood damage costs are likely to dampen retail consumer spending in the near term, including ecommerce retail, which drives demand for warehouse and distribution space. Flood damage to homes should cause an uptick in sales of home improvement items and household goods, making up for some of the lost demand. Auto sales are also expected to increase dramatically, since nearly a million cars were destroyed by floodwaters in the Houston area alone.

During the rebuilding, it’s important for those who suffered to tell their stories. Many have posted on Facebook and touched the hearts and minds of thousands of good people who have in turn generously donated money. Memories are short, so the time to speak is now.

Texas, Florida and now Puerto Rico are places where we currently need billions of dollars to assist with the massive cleanup and eventual rebuilding of residential and commercial property. Going forward, after the rebuilding process, it is time to prepare for the next disaster. First and foremost, have a thorough plan and follow this plan. Among the key questions to consider:

  • What emergency tools do you need? Flashlights, batteries, generators, solar-powered equipment?
  • Which are the agencies that will assist people in a disaster? Know who to turn to during an emergency.
  • Community groups should meet to create their own disaster plans.
  • Study where pets will go. They don’t understand downed power lines and other dangers.
  • What is your exit plan from your home?
  • Where would flood water come into your house from?
  • Store all your key information in the cloud. Have all your personal data safe and fully protected from the elements.
  • Drinking water is critical. What do you have and is it stored in a safe place you can access?
  • What other sources of water exist?

Your plan should assume there is no gas, no electricity, and no open highways. What alternative routes can be identified in advance and where will residents be able to find those bare necessities to help them through a very difficult time?

Insurance companies do offer flood insurance, however they are not really giving you what they say they will cover and are likely to claim eventually that your home was not built correctly. Find one that gives you the basics and will stand behind their protection claims.

The need to become resourceful is synonymous with overall survival. Hurricanes have had a long standing preference for certain geographical areas of our country.

To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, “The will to survive is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to survive.”

John F. “Mickey” McGuire is a senior partner with Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire, a San Diego-based law firm.

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