Houston tragedy demonstrates need for bugout bags

Houston, Texas, is a classic example of tough choices that face the good folks who are in municipal planning. Having spent the last 25 years involved with Planning Commissions and Zoning Boards and getting halfway through a Master’s in Public Administration, and working in two different states, I have seen the hard choices first hand.

The way to handle the risk primarily is to set a limit; an area must survive a 40-, 50-, or even a 100-year flood. Houston is an example of a storm no one could have planned for. Some early estimates place it as a 500- to 1000-year event. To my knowledge no government in the world is prepared for a 1000-year storm.

We are starting the carping and harping about whose fault it is; the Mayor of Houston, a Democrat, told the folks not to evacuate. His rationale was sound, and if the storm had acted as predicted, like thousands of storms before it, he would have been correct. The Governor of Texas, a Republican, ordered an evacuation. At this point pointing fingers and fixing blame is an exercise in futility, but it will be done in earnest.

No one in municipal planning whom I have ever read or studied advocated a standard of protection from a thousand-year flood. To require that level of engineering and construction would cost an enormous amount and just be plainly impractical. In Allegan County, the good folks who plan for flood control are the Allegan County Drain Commissioners’ office. In my experience, they do a good job; however, it is not easy for them. Folks just do not want to spend money for retention or detention ponds on ground that the owners know has not flooded in 30 years. Builders and contractors do not want to spend the extra dollars for flood protection/prevention. Most folks do not want to clean out the drainage system; indeed, they often use them as dumping grounds.

The thing that folks do not understand is that floods are an accumulation event; your property may not flood, but the water coming from the impervious surfaces on your property will flood folks out downstream. Depending on your location, you may be downstream.

To this day we maintain bugout bags; living overseas in Asia and Europe they were required. Today we are not directly concerned with the Russians attacking through the Fulda Gap, or the North Koreans invading across the Han River, but the concept of the bugout bag is still good. Natural disasters may occur, and forearming your family with the basics of life is a sound idea. A supply of food and potable water for a few days is recommended by FEMA. We prefer to keep a few weeks supply on hand.

Prevention is still the best cure for any disaster. Every square inch of impervious surface you construct adds to the flooding problems: roads, drives, roofs, barns, patios, parking areas. As Martin, Moline, Dorr, Wayland and Hopkins grow, we all add millions of gallons of storm water runoff to the drain system. It is in our best interest to support a very aggressive and protective Allegan County Storm Water Management plan.

A flood of the magnitude we find in Houston cannot be controlled, but aggressive management just may protect our families and property from a lesser storm. It is short sighted and old-fashioned stupid not to vote for the needed funds or openly support the good folks who are protecting us from flooding. A few dollars spent in prevention are worth thousands in disaster recovery. All good municipal planners know that we do not plan for today, but for generations yet born.

Robert M. Traxler, Dorr Township


  • Bob is right on the money. In our house we’ve been having the discussion about how much planning is reasonable. Consider the amount of space it would require to put together a two-week survival kit for one family. Now, what are the logistics of doing the same for hundreds of thousands of people. Mind-boggling.
    I tell this story a lot since we moved to Arizona. We have a season affectionately called Monsoon Season during the summer. Desert land is dense terrain. It is not porous like it is in Michigan, so rain water can be a very real problem when it occurs. The summer rains can be sudden and plentiful, and without good sewer systems there is no place for the rain to go, so it collects in pools or races down gullies and canyons, and turns streams and rivers into raging floods. In south Chandler residential development is newer, and planners require developers to include retention areas to be included in all new builds. Many of these areas double as playgrounds and park areas for gatherings or sports. Most of the time they are dry. But just a week ago we had a storm hit our neighborhood, and the retention pond/playground had a foot of water for several days. Better the water be there than in our living room!
    This kind of planning is reasonable and prudent. Let’s not second-guess those who have been trying to prevent the preventable, but have been hit with an unusual weather event no one was able to foresee or forestall.

  • Most persons do not realize something as being without power for a few days might require a “bug out ” bag….. I, from growing up in a very rural area at the time, keeping things to help you survive days without the usual necessities of life were necessary to try and keep a somewhat normal lifestyle after the disruption to normal services.
    It is best to be able to survive for a few days to a week without power of any sort. It just takes a little research and practice for a family to adapt to the extreme changes they may encounter..
    To answer the question everyone always asks can you do it? My answer is yes if I or anyone with me has to flee to a non -urban setting I am prepared to keep both of us alive and safe for at least a week,
    Only you are responsible for your well being in the time of an emergency… to rely on anyone else is foolish… help may come, but it may be too late.

    • Mr. Smit
      Thank you for the comment.
      Excellent point, we must help our families first, then we can help others. Better to be part of the solution and not the problem. A bit of forward thinking never hurts.

  • Mrs. Mandaville,
    Thank you for the comment.
    Five inches of rain in a storm is a problem, Houston received forty-eight to sixty inches. Hard to wrap your mind around that much water.
    Retention ponds work as you observed. Installed in the site preparation portion of the building, they are not expensive. Not getting it they do require land and that is a cost. Your example if innovative solutions for dual land use is a very good way to solve the probable.
    Thanks for the comment.

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