risk mitigation

Advancing innovation in disaster relief will need local and federal support, says Houston panel

The future of resilience innovation will require all hands on deck. Photo via Getty Images

As Houstonians know more than most, a natural disaster can set a thriving city back millions. And, as it seems, these natural disasters aren't going anywhere. The question innovators, governments, insurance companies, and affected citizens keep asking is "what can be done?"

"Over the past decade we've been in and out of several disasters in the billions of dollars of impact," says Richard Seline, managing partner at ResilientH2O Partners. "But it's not without response."

Governments are deploying billions into fixing infrastructure, and Seline gathered risk mitigation experts for a conversation and startup pitch session as a part of Houston Tech Rodeo to discuss the future of this field. The experts weighed in on how risk mitigation and disaster prevention is going to need to be supported by both local and national governments.

Pamela Williams, executive director at BuildStrong Coalition, says she's been in the industry for decades now and has observed new financial support opportunities coming in at a federal level. These entities are looking for cost effective, risk reducing technologies. Innovators can think of these resources as seed funds — with a very high return on investment.

"Investments pre-disaster to draw down risk will save us … up to $11 for every $1 invested," she says on the panel. "Pre-disaster mitigation is where it's at."

And the solutions can't just come from one office within the national government — it needs to be a collaborative effort, she adds.

"We have got to provide flexibility, consistency — and truly be able to leverage all of these resources together so that we can do these transformational unthought of projects," Williams says.

Local governments are also tasked with increasing focus and funding on disaster prevention — maybe even more so than federal agencies, says Ron Prater, executive director at Big City Offices of Emergency Management.

"All disasters are local," he explains. "Locals have to be ready. ...Feds have money and resources but they aren't going to come in and save the day."

Governmental support is going to be needed to advance risk mitigation technology and innovation, but entrepreneurs might also have to seek aid elsewhere.

"While there are funds available for entrepreneurs and innovators, the fact is it will not always come from the government," Seline says. "There are billions of dollars of insurance, reinsurance, and non-traditional financing beginning to emerge — most of it centered around insuratech."

Williams says companies have a unique role to play in the continued conversation of driving these types of inventions.

"Our private sector partners have the ability to convene people," she says, "and bring perspectives to the table that have never before been there to come up with creative solutions."

Cultivating diverse thought leadership is crucial to the equation, says panel moderator Landi Spearman, generational and change management consultant at Organized Shift, who explains that Houston is an especially strategic place for this innovation to occur, since it's the most diverse big city in the country.

"When we think about resilience and people, we get to leverage our diversity of perspective. You get to bring yourself to the solution and you get to include others," she says.

There are a few types of exciting technologies emerging in resilience innovation — from finding ways to optimize and assist brokers and carriers as well as the equipment, technology, and data that's coming out of the public-private sector. One that interests Prater in particular is the opportunity to collect data.

"AI and machine learning are going to improve how (emergency managers) get situation awareness — how accurate it is and how timely it is," he says. "One of their main goals is to share as much information as possible."

The panel concluded with three startup pitches from NanoTech, a fireproofing and insulation product; IVPAir, a device that kills COVID-19 germs right from the air; and Climaguard, a weatherproofing invention to protect cars.

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Building Houston

 
 

Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center, gave the keynote address at this year's State of Space event. Screenshot via houston.org

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

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