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Finding the Hope in Harvey: Making Communications Count

Hurricane Harvey wrought historic destruction in Texas and its surrounding southern states. But in the wake of the storm, there is hope amidst the despair. According to Wired, emergency communications have improved significantly since Hurricane Katrina. Here’s a closer look at the impact of Harvey and the role emergency communications – including OnSolve critical notification solutions — played in helping people in their darkest hours.

“Unknown & Beyond Anything Experienced”

As Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath ravaged Southeast Texas, the National Weather Service declared the effects of the storm to be “unknown & beyond anything experienced.” While the extent of the devastation may be unfathomable, ABC News did offer some staggering numbers, including the following:

  • More than a million people evacuated their homes, and at least 39 people lost their lives.
  • More than 20 trillion gallons of rain fell across Texas and Louisiana — enough to supply New York City with all of its water needs for 50 years.
  • More than 185,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.
  • At least 10,000 people were rescued by federal forces, as well as countless others saved by Good Samaritans.
  • Houston call centers received a whopping 900 calls per hour at the height of the storm.

Circular image. A blue icon of the state of Texas has a hurricane icon above it.

Mitigating the Damage

While the numbers are shocking, even more so is this fact: It could have been worse. One saving grace? The communication networks during Harvey have been vastly improved compared to those of Katrina in 2005.

Unlike with Katrina, cellular networks held firm and many of the 900 hourly notification calls went through successfully. Additionally, many people were able to use their smartphones to communicate critical information via SMS and social networks.  Says Wired of the reversal, “That may come as cold comfort to the families fleeing ruined homes in boats and on floating air mattresses, but it is crucial nonetheless. As central as connectivity has become to our everyday lives, in times of disaster it is a matter of life and death.”

Meanwhile, National Emergency Number Association director of government affairs Trey Forgety told Wired, “Communications ranks up there with having fuel in the police cars.” This fact has been made even clearer by evaluations of emergency responses following catastrophic events ranging from Katrina to September 11, and explains why cellular networks are now prioritizing disaster preparedness.

Of course, there were still calls that went unanswered during Harvey. Said administrator Jamie Barnett, former FCC chief of public safety and homeland security, “I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to respond to really millions of people who are in distress or danger right at the same minute.”

As it turns out, however, some resources do put this capability in better reach. Consider leading mass notification provider OnSolve. The company’s CodeRED solution was able to deliver 1,788,794 total messages during Harvey, including 1,077,206 phone calls, 393,694 SMS text messages and 315,219 emails. OnSolve played a significant role in helping organizations impacted by Harvey communicate with their constituents before, during and after the storm.

Concludes Wired, “The pace of progress has not been quick enough to help all of the people of Southeast Texas now. But once the flood waters recede, there will no doubt be lots to learn from Hurricane Harvey—like Katrina before it—that could help even more people in the future.”

What better proof of the urgent mandate to keep improving emergency communications than Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria arriving fresh on Harvey’s heels?

Contact OnSolve to learn more about how our automated calling and messaging capabilities can help your organization weather any storm.

Ready to take the next step in protecting your residents? Request a demo here.