Greater Houstonians can help residents of other storm-ravaged states while helping themselves by participating in the Hurricane Harvey Registry
The registry serves two purposes: First, to gain long-term understanding of the storm's social and environmental impact on the region, and second, to offer statistics-based tools that help other regions recover and plan for the future.
Rice Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, the project's director, has ties to both Houston and North Carolina, where Hurricane Florence made landfall Sept. 14. The former professor at North Carolina's Duke University knows that region has a tough road ahead.
"We're ready, willing and able to make our tools and technology available to North and South Carolina," said Miranda, a faculty member in Rice’s statistics department. "The National Institutes of Health has already contacted us to ask if we could be part of their response there, and in Hawaii for Hurricane Lane." Lane dropped more than 50 inches of rain on Hawaii in late August.
Miranda said she's also talked with North Carolina and South Carolina public health officials whom she knows through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
training program on using geospatial tools in public health.
She and her colleagues at Rice, the City of Houston Health Department, the Environmental Defense Fund and public health officials in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties introduced the registry in April to gather data about Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. Participants are asked to fill out a survey that takes about 10 minutes to complete. It contains questions about their health and homes during and since the 2017 storm.
The data will provide key information for designing intervention programs now, allow officials to refine their responses to future weather crises and serve as a model to help others recover from disasters, a goal in line with Rice's Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade
More than 2,000 citizens have taken the survey to date. The registry is seeking at least 5,000 participants to ensure a representative sample of what Greater Houstonians experienced during and after Harvey. With enough responses, Miranda's team and the survey's host, Rice's Kinder Institute for Urban Research
through its Urban Data Platform, will establish a data set that public health officials, policy makers and researchers can draw upon for years to come.
The researchers said it's important for those who didn't suffer damage during or after Harvey to participate. "Even if they didn't have a lot of damage, we need to put those who were impacted in the context of the entire community," said Eric Bakota, an analyst with Harris County Public Health
. "It's a good way to give us a clear resolution of what's going on."
It's also important for participants to know the personal data they enter is secure, said Katherine Ensor, a Rice professor of statistics and Urban Data Platform director. "We want to assure everyone that this data set will not be publicly available," she said. "It's a secure registry, and only aggregate information will be shared with the city and county, and with researchers who apply for access."
Registry officials ask participants to share their names and contact information for the opportunity to follow up on their situations in the months and years to come. "This will help us to understand the storm's long-term impact," Ensor said.
To get people on board, registry staff are going directly to communities. Rice has hired two community coordinators to work with neighborhood leaders and plans to hire a third, Spanish-speaking coordinator to expand the survey's reach.
"On my first day here, I noticed a majority of respondents so far, about 75 percent, are women," said project manager Rashida Callender, an associate in research who has a master's of public health in biostatistics degree. "The majority were also white, about 80 percent. And definitely the majority were non-Hispanic. That helped shape my initial outreach."
She and recent Rice alumnus Justin Onwenu ’18 are establishing relationships with Greater Houston neighborhoods and going to their meetings to register residents. "Being there helps us to assuage their concerns about participating and also to explain the scientific concepts and why this is important," Callender said.
They also staffed a registry table at Houston Astros games this summer and plan to do the same in collaboration with the Houston Rockets this fall.