The supervisor of Texas A&M’s urban resilience lab says that Hurricane Laura and ongoing wildfires are compounding the risks of the virus.
With a major hurricane hitting Louisiana and Texas and wildfires menacing the western U.S., millions of Americans are facing the complex risks of a natural disaster striking in the middle of a pandemic.
The steps people normally take to prepare for a severe storm or to evacuate can contradict the public health recommendations for protecting themselves and others from COVID-19. That’s what millions of people were facing as Hurricane Laura intensified to a dangerous Category 4 storm on Aug. 26. More than half a million were under evacuation orders, including the cities Galveston, Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas.
My urban resilience lab at Texas A&M University has been examining interactions between urban infrastructure, systems and people in disasters. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched a study into the effect of the pandemic on urban systems during a natural disaster, applying similar methods we used during extensive research on Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Houston in August 2017.
Our research shows that compound disasters have complex ramifications. At the intersection of a natural hazard and a pandemic is a decision process fraught with contradictions.
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