Analysis of Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts of Hydrometeorological Disasters and Recommendations for Risk Reduction
The U.S. experienced 32,815 fatalities and approximately $900 billion in total damage from 1960 to 2016 as a result of hydrometeorological disasters. The state of Texas ranks first in the number of fatalities, second in the number of hazard events, and fourth in damage. This dissertation dedicates the first two essays to historical analysis of hydrometeorological disasters in Texas during this same period analyzing the spatiotemporal trends of fatalities and property damage. The number of fatalities caused by hydrometeorological disasters exhibited an increasing trend over the study period and are strongly related to the population growth. The increasing trend in property damage is also related to population, but more so to the wealth of the region impacted by the disaster. Coastal regions are highly susceptible to tropical cyclones that cause destruction with a combination of high winds, storm surge and flooding. Hurricanes have unique characteristics and predominant destructive forces (hazards) that must be communicated to the public indicating the comprehensive risk of death and property damage. Two hurricanes, Florence and Michael, making landfall in September and October 2018 respectively, exemplify the difference in hazards and opportunities for better communication. The third essay provides a preliminary, though detailed, assessment of the socio-economic and environmental impacts in the immediate aftermath of hurricanes Florence and Michael with emphasis on the difference in predominant hazards responsible for the majority of the fatalities and damage. Review and post-disaster assessment of other major hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S in the last two decades provide lessons learned and opportunities for improvement to reduce risk within the various stages of the disaster lifecycle. Gaps and recommendations for improvement of mitigation efforts are suggested within the context of each stage of the lifecycle. Effective predictive modeling and communication of the comprehensive risk to include wind, storm surge, and rain-induced flooding. Pre-disaster planning and coordination of emergency response across different levels of government and private resources. Timely confirmation of post disaster metrics using federal and state guidance to allow for exploitation of the existing momentum for change. Long-term strategies such as engineering upgrades to structures and flooding diversion in high risk coastal regions and flood plains are also gaining ground but face political challenges since this may require more initial capital and reallocation of private land ownership for the greater good of the community.