January 2018 Vol. 73 No. 1


“Hidden Damage” Poses Biggest Challenge To Hurricane Harvey Recovery

Carol Ellinger Haddock, P.E., Acting Director of Public Works & Engineering, City of Houston, discussed the department’s response to Hurricane Harvey and its impact at the Dec. 6 luncheon meeting of the Underground Construction Technology Association (UCTA) Gulf Coast Chapter.

With staff of about 3,900 employees and $1.8 billion annual operating budget, the department is responsible for administration, planning, maintenance, construction management and technical engineering of the city’s infrastructure. This includes the production and distribution of over 146 billion gallons of water per year and treatment of over 90 billion gallons per year of wastewater. It also includes the maintenance of more than:

60,000 stormwater manholes
100,000 stormwater inlets
17,000 freeway and under bridge light fixtures
50,000 fire hydrants

All of that was magnified to the nth degree when Hurricane Harvey dumped 35 to 70 inches of rain over four days, on the city that averages an annual rainfall of 45 inches.

Haddock is rightfully proud of her team’s response, which included assisting in 7,500 rescues; delivering food and water to responders; and maintaining operation of the city’s water and wastewater treatment plants – without having to issue a single boil-water notice.

“I’m so proud of how the team truly served the public and reached out to those in need. People worked tirelessly for two weeks straight; many slept onsite and worked selflessly, even as their own homes were flooded.”

Even more impressive about the team, and Haddock’s strong leadership, is that she was out of the country at that time. Her team members did exactly what they were supposed to – and went above and beyond – in her absence and facing what she calls “a life-changing event for our entire community.”
Haddock is equally grateful for the team’s continuing efforts and stamina in helping the city recover from Hurricane Harvey’s impact. The reality is sobering.

Remote permitting centers that were set up across the city are still in operation today, and likely will be through the first quarter of this year. About 80 percent of the traffic signal cabinets that were flooded and shorted out had been replaced by early December. Seven Public Works crews are still assisting full-time on debris removal, which was contracted out. Two city-wide passes were completed by the end of November; the final pass – the hardest, bottom-third of the piles – will be finished in February or March.

Public Works crews have also repaired numerous cave-ins and sinkholes that were revealed as soon flood waters receded in some cases, and weeks after in other cases. An even bigger challenge is  the “hidden damage” – cave-ins and sinkholes that will develop.

“We’re still on watch 24/7 for cave-ins/sinkholes, and repairing them within one day after they are reported,” she explained. “I suspect we will continue to find them over the next 10 years,” she said. “The hardest part is that we just don’t know where or when.”

Her strong leadership and pride will also continue shine through. “Cave-ins will be a challenge for the next decade, but it’s a challenge I know this team can meet.”

UCTA Gulf Coast Chapter
(713) 830-2184, ucta.org

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