Surviving Hurricane Harvey: Students on co-op in Houston witness storm firsthand

Aug. 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey - Aug. 27Over the weekend, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, which suffered torrential downpours of rain for five days, and totaling 52 inches as of Tuesday evening. The flooding is so severe that many areas have had to be evacuated, and supply chains have been upset, leaving many in need of supplies. The Speed School has a variety of businesses in the region, ranging from ORTEC, a consulting group, to NASA, with several of our students currently on co-op, including Alison Davis and Jacob Cassady.

Riding the storm out
Davis, a former Houston resident, found herself in Louisville at a young age, attending Manual High School prior to her tenure at the Speed School, where she is currently a Junior in the Department of Industrial Engineering. Returning to Houston recently for another co-op round with ORTEC, Davis’ experience has been comparatively manageable.

“I have been very lucky and didn’t get any flooding where I live. I would describe the last few days as living on an island though. I could walk about a mile to the nearest flooded bayou (Brays Bayou), but I haven’t driven my car since Friday," said Davis. "With the flash flooding, I didn’t want to risk getting stuck. I’m now planning on volunteering to help with the recovery in Houston in the coming months.”

A Computer Engineering and Computer Science major, Jacob Cassady is in his senior year at the Speed School and working his second co-op with NASA at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. There he’s working on as an engineering directorate under the spacecraft software engineering division on a project related to the testing of the Orion capsule.

Cassady and Davis both prepared for this scenario, stocking up on food and other supplied in advance of the storm to stay a step ahead. While Davis has remained outside of the path of the flooding, Cassady has been less lucky trapped by rising water without an avenue of escape, at least by conventional methods making any resupply trip unlikely in the short term.

“We are completely flooded in, but luckily we have had power for at least a portion of every day and have power right now. We haven’t seen any flooding in the house, but it has come close," Cassady said. "There was a mandatory evacuation yesterday, but we worried we would be worse off leaving. We are safe here. We have plenty of food, water, and optimism. Given our circumstances, I think we are in pretty good shape.”

Working it out
Hurricane Harvey - Aug. 30For both Cassady and Davis, their respective co-op employers have been understanding of the difficulties brought on by a natural disaster of this magnitude. Davis notes that ORTEC has been flexible, and she has had opportunities to work from home during the event. She explains though that, “they are less concerned about the work and more concerned about our safety during the storm and the ongoing flooding.”

Likewise, NASA is operating on a day-by-day basis, with both Monday and Tuesday off. As with Davis, Cassady has had the opportunity to work from home, which affords him both an opportunity to contribute and a means to stay busy.

“There is no way we or many families around here could get to JSC plus there has been flooding and damages in the Clear Lake area around and inside of the space center. The man I’m living with said it could be a while until things are back to normal at work as many people will have to take time to repair their houses,” says Cassady.

Processing Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey is a sobering reminder of nature’s impact, and one that leaves much to consider, both in terms of the immediate response to the event and how to stay prepared for the next.

For Davis, remaining engaged with her work and her family is imperative to stay focused during her difficult tenure in Houston.

“Over the last few days I’ve heard from family, friends, and people I haven’t talked to in ages asking if I am safe. Even though I’m not at school currently I have the support of my Speed School family asking what they can do for me a thousand miles away," Davis said. "And from a few discussions with my co-workers here, we have already talked about what we can do as a group to volunteer in the coming months.”

She added that work and studying are very important to her. But when a storm like Harvey devastates so many so close by, the importance of family, friends and community becomes much clearer.

"I'm sure I will have quite a bit more to take away from this experience once I am able to start volunteering to help out the people who have really been affected,” Davis said.

In Cassady’s case, Hurricane Harvey has given him a newfound perspective on the destructive force of the environment.

“I never thought I’d see several feet of water cover an entire city or a palm tree bend to the will of the wind. It’s important to be educated on what to do when visiting places that experience tropical storms," said Davis. "It has also helped me understand the power of good spirits in times of peril. Most days since the storm hit there have been kids swimming in the streets and enjoying their day off. The laughter in the lulls of the storm have made all of the difference.”