Information can help to identify trends and develop plans to reduce risk in storm ares. Rice University, the Houston Health Department and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently announced the launch of a new project to understand Hurricane Harvey’s toll on people’s physical and mental health.
The project, called the Hurricane Harvey Registry, comes eight months after the storm unleashed mayhem on Houston, dumping trillions of gallons of water in a few days. The registry will collect information about health, housing and exposures from Houston-area residents and those who came to the city during the storm. The responses can help researchers and public officials to identify health trends and to develop plans to reduce risk with future storms.
“In the face of Harvey’s catastrophic flooding, our Houston community chose to respond with strength, compassion and creativity,” said Rice University Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, the project’s lead investigator. “This collaborative work aims to ensure that we understand fully the social and environmental impacts of Harvey, with the goal of developing tailored interventions to help people in the aftermath of large-scale weather disasters.”
Modeled after the World Trade Center Health Registry for people exposed to fire and smoke in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the Hurricane Harvey Registry is the first of its kind to collect information about environmental exposures after a major flooding event.
Harvey exposed Houstonians to increased air pollution, water pollution and soil contamination, as well as mold inside their homes, among other threats. The registry’s survey will ask people where they were and what, if any, health effects they experienced before, during and after the storm.
“People wonder what impacts Harvey might have had on their health,” said Loren Raun, the Houston Health Department’s chief environmental officer and a professor in the practice of statistics, environmental analysis and decision making at Rice. “It’s important to answer that question. The City of Houston will use information learned from the registry to understand how we can respond more actively to health threats from these events in the future.”
The city will gather baseline health information from as many people as possible, especially children, and combine it with extensive environmental monitoring data. People can enroll in the registry online at harveyregistry.rice.edu and through a portal on the city’s website, as well as other outlets. Rice’s Urban Data Platform, a secure system used by the City of Houston and Houston Public Health Department, will house the registry’s data.
“The Urban Data Platform was created to support a deeper understanding of Houston’s people, government and built environment,” said Katherine Ensor, a Rice professor of statistics and director of the platform. “We are pleased to have this tool available to help understand the social and environmental impacts of Harvey and support the community.”
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the NIH), the Cullen Trust for Health Care and EDF provided seed funding for the registry.
“We expect this work will inform policy and planning that protects people’s health and saves lives in places experiencing more frequent and more powerful storms because of climate change,” said Elena Craft, senior health scientist at EDF, a leading national nonprofit organization that creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems.