Houston Health Department

Physical health, mental health and housing challenges detailed in first Hurricane Harvey Registry Report

Feb. 21, 2019

HOUSTON (Juice Consulting) — Nearly two-thirds of people who participated in the Hurricane Harvey Registry said they sometimes or often think about Harvey even when they didn’t mean to. Those who experienced home damage during Hurricane Harvey are far more likely to experience mental health difficulties, according to the Registry. This information, including data on income loss, vehicle damage, displacement, debris and physical health, is included in the initial report of the Registry outlined by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Feb. 21.

Since launching in April 2018, the Hurricane Harvey Registry has registered over 13,500 residents in the region, capturing the living environment and experiences of over 40,000 individuals and bringing light to a wide range of health and housing impacts experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey exposed Houstonians to devastating weather conditions, unprecedented sources of pollution and contamination, as well as a number of hurdles to successful long-term recovery. Modeled after the World Trade Center Health Registry for people exposed to fire, smoke and debris in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the Hurricane Harvey Registry is a first in the nation effort aimed at understanding the long term impact to residents in the aftermath of a major flooding event.

The Hurricane Harvey Registry, a joint venture by Rice University, Environmental Defense Fund, Houston Health Department and health departments from Harris, Fort Bend, Victoria, Chambers and Montgomery counties, is working actively to engage residents throughout the entire region.

The Registry’s initial survey asks questions about residents’ physical health, mental health and housing before, during and after the storm. Those not affected by Harvey are also encouraged to participate because their responses provide much-needed insight into Harvey’s impact on all communities. Houstonians are asked to continue participating in the survey for months to come so continued progress can be made. For the survey link, see Hurricane Harvey Registry.

Overview of Report Release

The Hurricane Harvey Registry’s initial report was outlined by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Rice University Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, Chief Environmental Science Officer at the Houston Health Department Loren Raun, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health Umair Shah and Senior Director for Climate and Health at Environmental Defense Fund Elena Craft during a press conference on Feb. 21. They revealed important data included in the report, what the first findings mean to Houstonians as recovery efforts continue, as well as the advocacy and policy implications of the Registry.

View the report here.

“Through heart and hard work, Houstonians have made huge strides as a community to recover from Hurricane Harvey,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “The data collected through the Hurricane Harvey Registry gives us valuable new insight into the effects of the storm on the well-being of all Houstonians. Information about where people stayed after they were dislocated, how long they were out of their homes and the health effects they experienced will play a vital role in responding to the next storm.”

Ultimately, the Registry hopes to bring light to how the storm affected health and housing in our communities in order to shape public health solutions and better prepare the region for the future.

“Whether it’s uncovering disparity and injustice, supporting intervention and policy initiatives, or uplifting the voices of residents who are still working to get back on their feet, we know that there is so much more work to do,” said Rice University Provost Marie Lynn Miranda, PhD, the project’s lead investigator. “While the Hurricane Harvey Registry’s Initial Report goes a long way in capturing the experiences of residents thus far, we ask that residents in all communities throughout the region continue to share their Harvey experience with us. This report is only just the first step in an ongoing effort to make sure our region is better prepared for future storms.”

The report breaks down into the following sections, covering effects from the storm.

Displacement and Debris

46 percent of survey respondents had to leave their home due to the storm. Those who had to leave were displaced for an average of 20 weeks before moving back home and the majority of these respondents reported staying with family and friends. The link between housing displacement and poor mental health outcomes serves as a barrier to long term recovery.

Debris that comes in contact with flood waters is a public health threat due to chemical contaminants released. On average, it took approximately seven weeks for piles of trash to be cleared. The data collected on debris and displacement can inform municipal governments about improvements needed in current recovery strategies.

Physical Health

There are numerous chemical production and storage facilities including chemical plants, Superfund sites and refineries in the greater Houston area, and the extent of air, soil and water contamination has yet to be assessed. The Registry, however, finds that living conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, including exposures in the home during clean-up, are a potential risk factor for physical health outcomes. Residents present in their home during clean up reported shortness of breath, headaches, and problems concentrating at noticeably higher rates than those not present.

Mental Health

Mental health difficulties were reported at a greater frequency than physical health symptoms in this cohort of registrants, with nearly two-thirds of respondents reporting intrusive or unintended thoughts about Hurricane Harvey. Identifying high-risk populations and persistent stressors of people who lived through Harvey can aid the development of evidence-based prevention strategies for future disasters.

Moving Forward

Although the Hurricane Harvey Registry has already captured the experiences of over 40,000 individuals across the region, there remains work to be done. The Registry will continue to ask residents to share their experiences so that all communities can be well represented. Through this effort, there is a significant capacity to support current and future public health interventions, uncover previously unknown health and housing impacts and inform policy for years to come.

“Immediately after Hurricane Harvey, our mobile units were in devastated neighborhoods providing health services, cleaning supplies, food and water.” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health . “We saw firsthand how severely impacted these residents were and know that some are still struggling to recover. One year after Harvey, we have returned to these communities to help us determine their current unmet needs to either provide direct services or connect them to additional resources. Information from the Hurricane Harvey Registry will certainly help us better anticipate resident’s needs during future emergencies and disasters.”

“We know that extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey are becoming more frequent and more intense,” said Elena Craft, PhD, senior director of health and climate for Environmental Defense Fund . “We will continue to track how Harvey affected people's long-term health so that we can identify public health solutions and better prepare the region for the next storm. Our aim is to make Houston the most resilient city in the nation.”