Guest column: Engaging the business community in disaster recovery
Commissioner George P. Bush of the Texas General Land Office -- the lead coastal agency in Texas -- on disaster recovery.
Texans know that sound business policies and a spirit of entrepreneurship are the lifeblood of the state’s economy. Along with our strong sense of Texas pride and camaraderie, a pro-business attitude is one of the many reasons the Lone Star State stands out among the nation. But on Aug. 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey put coastal Texas businesses to the test.
In 2017, Texas’ Gulf Coast Region accounted for nearly 25 percent of the state’s total employment. Industries ranging from shipping and manufacturing to tourism and transportation took a hit when 27 trillion gallons of water from Hurricane Harvey inundated coastal communities. The impact was unprecedented.
In the Texas petrochemical industry alone, 25 percent of the nation’s refining capacity went offline because of the storm. But It could have been worse. Refiners were able to bring facilities back online quickly and effectively, preventing what could have been a nationwide gasoline shortage.
Meanwhile, more than one year later, federal government recovery resources are still making their way through bureaucracy and red tape. Inefficiency has delayed our access to critical mitigation funds, hindering the state’s ability to realize long-term recovery and improve resiliency before the next hurricane season begins. This highlights the differences between business and government speed and flexibility.
Over many decades, the Texas private sector has developed a remarkable level of expertise in disaster recovery, mitigation and resilience efforts. These skills directly impact revenues, jobs and livelihoods. Business owners recognize the need to protect infrastructure and stockholder investments. Many businesses have highly advanced technological systems of disaster construction engineering and other innovative solutions for addressing the risks their industries face from hurricanes and floods. They have developed innovative ways to mitigate the problems that plague bureaucratic systems.
The private sector could add considerable value to state and local recovery managers if a formal mechanism is created to help bring innovative ideas to government.
In a report published by the Texas General Land Office (GLO) following Hurricane Harvey, titled “Hurricane Harvey: Texas At Risk,” I proposed a business advisory council on disaster recovery and mitigation to obtain input from private businesses on a regular and systemic basis. This council would enhance the state’s ability to respond to natural disasters and channel private-sector expertise to the recovery.
Making private-sector innovative solutions available to state policymakers would be extremely valuable. I strongly support legislative action, and I commend Senators Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Carol Alvarado, D-Houston; and Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, for their leadership on this issue by filing legislation that seeks to include the business community in important disaster recovery discussions.
George P. Bush is Commissioner for the Texas General Land Office (GLO), the state agency tasked with leading the housing recovery process after Hurricane Harvey, the second most destructive storm in American history.