Hurricane Harvey became the first major Atlantic hurricane of the season to make landfall in late August. Even as Harvey’s strength was reduced to a tropical storm level, it produced record setting rains that caused catastrophic flooding in the greater metropolitan area of Houston and other parts of southeastern Texas. Texas Governor Greg Abbot declared a state of disaster on August 28 with damages projected to reach up to $180 billion.
Texas is home to many NSPE members. Texas Society of Professional Engineers Executive Director Trish Smith and TSPE President John Ho, P.E., made it a priority to reach out to members affected by Harvey. “We are keeping everyone in our thoughts and prayers, because this affected not just Houston, but also Corpus Christie, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and parts of Louisiana,” says Ho. “This storm produced what they are calling a 1,000-year flood.”
Ho works in the Dallas office of engineering firm Huitt-Zollars, but there were great concerns about the storm’s effect on his colleagues in the firm’s two Houston offices. “As a company, we will assess what their needs are for both short- and-long-term recovery,” he says. “Sometimes the best initial relief is just cash donations.”
NSPE member Harold “JR” Reddish, P.E., F.NSPE, president and CEO of S & B Infrastructure Ltd., faced a mandatory evacuation from his home on August 27 due to flood threats to his Sugarland neighborhood, southwest of the city. His subdivision is centered in a “levee improvement district,” he says, which protects new development territory under potential threat from the Brazos River. The highest the river has ever been, in its recorded history, according to Reddish, was 54.7 feet. The river was forecast to crest at 59 feet. “The last flood was on Tax Day last year and that was pretty ugly,” he recalls. “If the river had reached 59 feet, it didn’t look good for the subdivision.”
Despite the mandatory evacuation, Reddish considers himself to be in a better position than some of his fellow Texans in the state’s harder hit areas. Reddish’s office, in the Galleria section of Houston, was open for business a few days after the storm passed, however, some of the firm’s work with its oil and gas industry clients initially came to a grinding halt.
Harvey’s aftermath has had a far-reaching impact. The shutdown of Houston oil refineries has resulted in reduced and delayed access to gas supplies and increased fuel prices. This led Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, to release 5.3 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
As Houston’s recovery proceeds, there will be many opportunities for TSPE members to step in and take the lead with rebuilding efforts. With a large concentration of PEs in the Houston metropolitan area, Reddish is confident that the recovery efforts will benefit from their expertise. “Houston is an engineering capital,” says the past president of TSPE. “The resiliency officer for Houston’s mayor is a PE, and there are a lot of PEs advising leadership on the ground,” he says.
In response to Governor Abbot’s state-of-disaster declaration, the Texas Board of Professional Engineers will issue emergency temporary licenses to allow licensees in good standing in other states or territories to be licensed to practice professional engineering in certain Texas counties for 90 days. All applicants must follow all provisions of the Texas Engineering Practice Act, including firm registration requirements and procurement requirements.
Professional engineers who engage in voluntary rebuilding and recovery efforts will also have “good Samaritan” protections. NSPE believes that professional engineers who voluntarily assist their communities, states, and the nation in times of crisis when requested by the appropriate public official, be protected from liability exposure when performing such voluntary duties. (Read NSPE’s position statement on Good Samaritan laws.)
Texas law provides that a licensed professional is not liable for civil damages, including personal injury, property damage, or other loss related to the professional’s act error or omission, provided that the services are:
- Appropriate for the professional to perform;
- Provided voluntarily and without compensation or the expectation of compensation;
- In response to and provided during the duration of a proclaimed state of emergency or a declared state of disaster;
- Provided at the request or with the approval of a federal, state, or local public official acting in an official capacity in response to the disaster or emergency (including a law enforcement or building inspection official); and
- Related to a structure, building, roadway, piping, or other system, either publicly or privately owned.
The law excludes acts of gross negligence or willful or intentional misconduct and does not apply to a person at the scene to solicit business or perform a service for compensation. The statute also provides that the entitlement to receive compensation for services under the section does not determine whether the services were provided voluntarily.
NSPE’s thoughts remain with all of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Please consider donating to relief and recovery efforts today.