The increasing regularity of “once in a lifetime” disasters raises questions not only about the effectiveness of state and federal hazard mitigation policies but about which communities continue to bear the brunt of disasters. Winter Storm Uri, which left significant damage across Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas in February, showed how preexisting vulnerabilities and recurring climate catastrophes that exacerbate inequities can compound trauma.

Texans were especially hard hit by Winter Storm Uri, with more than 4 million people losing power between February 14 and 15 and 12 million people experiencing water disruptions. The storm resulted in at least 58 weather-related fatalities across affected states, extended road closures, mass food supply chain disruption, and unmet basic needs for millions of people.

The storm’s impacts on Houston neighborhoods highlight three key lessons that can inform policymakers’ plans for an equitable recovery and improved climate resilience.

1. Focus on systemically excluded communities first
Natural disasters, such as floods, droughts, wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes, will continue disrupting people’s day-to-day lives. Often, the highest death toll in these disasters comes not from the storm but from both preexisting infrastructure disinvestment and a lack of government coordination that leave families without resources for days following disaster. That’s why recovery efforts should start with the communities most likely to live in substandard conditions.

2. Don’t let vulnerable households suffer repeatedly
After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Black and Latinx households were more likely to experience difficulty getting access to city services (PDF). Neighborhoods with a higher share of households affected by Hurricane Harvey also saw a statistically higher share of power outages.

3. Invest in mitigation and preparedness across infrastructure areas, from utilities to housing
Unlike during past disasters in Texas, the electrical grid and utility infrastructure played significant roles during Winter Storm Uri, exacerbating the storm’s impacts. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit that operates Texas's electrical grid, has a history of evading regulations to maximize profit and ignoring reports on the urgency of winterizing its energy infrastructure (PDF), leading to Winter Storm Uri being one of the largest shortfalls in energy supply in modern US history. Climate resilience for Texas begins with weatherizing the energy grid to better sustain extreme cold or flood damage.

Read the full article about building equity into climate resilience by Sonia Torres Rodríguez, Fay Walker, and Carlos Martín at The Counter.