Keeping attention on Hurricane Harvey
When the waters were rising, everyone was paying attention, but now that they have receded, we must not forget those still hurting. It is crucial we stay focused on the needs of our communities, which do not end when the national media attention fades.
That is why I recently hosted a hearing on this topic at home where Hurricane Harvey hit. Officials on the federal, state and local levels met in Cypress in a building that was integral to the response efforts to discuss lessons learned and our path forward.
Our response efforts to this disaster were successful — strong coordination between all levels of government led to 20,000 lives saved. However, Texas is still on the path to a complete recovery and those still struggling need our help. We must continue concentrating on the ongoing needs of our region, and learn from the mistakes made and improve where we can.
One of the lessons we learned and discussed during the hearing is the necessity to streamline federal funding directly to the local level so those most in need receive help as soon as possible. Instead of the additional layers of approval, we should be able to provide Community Development Block Grants directly to the city of Houston and Harris County so our local governments can use the funds without delay. By cutting the red tape, we speed up the recovery efforts by empowering local leaders — who best understand the issues — to make those decisions. We in Congress should do everything in our power to make the recovery process as efficient and effective as possible.
We also need to work toward better protecting the greater Houston metro area from future flooding disasters. My district has had three major floods in the past few years — the Tax Day flood, Memorial Day flood and Hurricane Harvey. We have to focus on flood mitigation projects, including the construction of a third reservoir on Cypress Creek. During the hearing, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Commissioner Jack Cagle testified to the urgent need to construct this third reservoir, echoing my previous statements on the importance of this project. Including the fact that we cannot wait the usual 10 years for a project like this to be done.
There is a continual need of federal agencies to study an issue ad nauseam, which plagues the federal government from getting the work done. This is what I call “paralysis of analysis.” The American people demand and deserve a quick response from their government.
In addition to streamlining funds and protecting our communities through flood mitigation projects, we need to improve our overall dialogue with the public. We must ensure our communications and alerts are clear and timely. This hearing highlighted the communication gap between the Army Corps of Engineers and the public surrounding the controlled releases of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. We can do a better job, and we will. The public is deserving of much more.
As Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I am in a unique position to oversee the response, recovery and mitigation efforts in my home state. It was imperative I hold this hearing because we must take every opportunity to learn from this disaster and improve our response efforts for future storms. There are many areas in which we excelled in our response to Hurricane Harvey and we, will enhance the areas where we did not.
We must continue to focus on preparing for future disasters while never forgetting the challenges the people of Texas have faced, some of which remain ongoing. I want Texans to know that the nation is still behind them, and I remain here to help.
McCaul represents Texas’ 10th Congressional District. He is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The op-ed originally appeared in Houston Chronicle, here.