Lessons Learned From Hurricane Ike, Underground Utilities

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | October 2008 Vol. 63 No. 10

In my neighborhood on the west side of Houston (and over 50 miles from the coast), we only lost power for about 20 minutes during the 80 - 100 mph winds and torrential rains. We were literally an island of light in a sea of darkness. I could attribute that anomaly to clean living, but realistically it was due to underground utilities. Though virtually all of our friends in nearby subdivisions lost power initially, it was largely restored within 12 to 72 hours. In our part of town, most of the subdivisions are less than 25 years old. As is the national trend, all utilities – including telephone, power and cable – were installed underground. Once power is fully restored (at the time of this writing, over 1 million were still without power), I would love to see the statistics correlating restoration of electricity with underground versus overhead utility lines. Underground installation does, by no means, solve all the problems of power loss during natural disasters, but I have no doubt it minimizes damage and accelerates recovery.

But our woes in my part of town were minor compared to other areas. In Galveston, part of the island itself has literally disappeared – the “new” beach has moved substantially inland. The search goes on for idiot survivors (those that chose to ignore the “leave now or face death” warnings). The loss of life will inevitably continue to climb, but all things considered, it has been amazingly low. Sadly, there are still more than 50 people missing, mostly from Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula. Authorities suspect that many of those were simply swept out to sea.

In Houston, we had an orderly retreat and are having an orderly, cooperatively recovery. No major FEMA nightmares, no blaming the President and Congress for a natural disaster. Texans took the initiative and are simply dealing with the multitude of problems – and will continue to do so for as long as it takes.

We’re just taking care of our own. That is, perhaps, the most important lesson learned from the now infamous Hurricane Ike.