The chances of thriving after a natural disaster depend on how safe you were before

Of the events surveyed, Hurricane Harvey and Winter Storm Uri caused the most property damage reported by survey participants. Uri’s below-freezing temperatures in February 2021 caused problems for most households in the survey, with half reporting problems related to its freezing cold days. The problems caused by Harvey’s winds and floods in 2017 are lasting longer, with issues still worrying 40% of respondents. Photo credit: Pexels

According to a survey released today by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, your household’s chances of fully recovering from a natural disaster could depend almost entirely on your financial and social vulnerability before the crisis.

The survey team studied 20 years of extreme heat, hurricanes, floods, fires and freezes in Texas, comparing households that were able to recover relatively quickly to those that weren’t. have never quite succeeded in regaining the same security and the same quality of life. life before the disaster.

“We hope this data will inform government officials, private sector leaders, community service groups and first responders not only about the immediate desperation, but also about the chronic risks that persist long after a major national disaster,” said Gail Buttorff. , director of the Hobby’s Survey Research Institute.

After wind and flood damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, for example, most households have finally recovered. But more than 40% of survey participants said they were still dealing with Harvey’s damage five years later.

The most vulnerable

The survey team based their comparisons on the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to identify geographic areas and social characteristics that leave some populations already more vulnerable in their lives. daily, and even more at risk of long-term loss in the event of a natural disaster.

According to vulnerability measures created based on the CDC’s SVI studies, the survey found that the most severely affected and slowest-to-recover households tended to be headed by a single parent, to include children under 18 years old, a person with a physical disability or an elderly person. the person. Other factors also played a role, particularly for people of color and non-English speaking households.

“Financial resources make a difference, of course. But low income does not always mean inescapable obstacles. Preparedness before the natural disaster was also a key factor. We found some interesting trends among households where proactive action was taken as soon as a risk was identified,” said Hobby School Research Associate Savannah Sipole.

The events

Of all survey respondents, 74% said they had been affected by natural disasters in the past 20 years. Extreme winter cold was the most challenging, with winter storm Uri affecting more than half of survey respondents in February 2021. Uri’s figures were followed by flooding, extreme heat and tornadoes.

Hurricane Harvey and Winter Storm Uri (also known as “The Big Freeze”) were the source of most of the damage to residences and other property reported by respondents.


According to the survey, Asian American participants were more likely than others to have insurance coverage. It also showed that Hispanic respondents took more steps to prepare for emergencies, such as pre-planning evacuation routes, coordinating with the community and neighbors, storing food and supplies, and securing sources. alternative food.

In contrast, white survey participants were the least prepared: 43% of white households said they had taken no preparedness measures. Among black survey participants, 39% did not prepare in advance, and 35% of Hispanic respondents and 22% of Asian respondents also took no preparatory steps.

In recovery rates by race: White and Hispanic households showed higher recovery rates after major disasters (near or above 50%). Black respondents reported the lowest recovery rates after major natural disasters (between 35% and 40%).

History lessons

Respondents who had experienced a natural disaster before were more likely to have at least standard insurance coverage. Flood insurance was more common among those who had been through a fire, tornado, or flood before.

“Our survey found that survey participants with higher incomes were more likely to have insurance, particularly homeowners and flood policies. In comparison, low-income respondents tended to have more health insurance and rental insurance than other types of policies,” said Hobby School research associate Maria Perez Arguelles.

About the survey

This research was conducted between December 22, 2021 and March 2, 2022 and included a representative sample of Texas residents with an oversample of Greater Houston area residents. A total of 2,587 respondents aged 18 and over participated.

This Texas natural disaster recovery study is the fourth phase of a five-year study that began in 2017 as a step toward understanding the preparedness, experience, and recovery of Houston residents who were affected by the Harvey floods.