The feeling is all too familiar for Houstonians. Tropical Storm Imelda hit Houston with devastating flood waters just two years after Hurricane Harvey did its damage.
With any obstacle or challenge, there is room for innovation. Over the past year, InnovationMap has covered various flood tech startups in Houston. Here are six innovations that can make a difference the next time a storm decides to take its toll on Houston.
Self-deploying flood protection for buildings
FloodFrame's technology can protect a home or commercial building from flood water damage. Photo via floodframe.com
A self-deploying flood damage prevention device caught Tasha Nielsen's eye on a trip to Denmark, and then launched the U.S. iteration of FloodFrame to bring the technology here.
FloodFrame works by using buoyancy. A lightweight cloth is wrapped around a tube is installed underground outside the perimeter of your home or business. One end of that cloth is attached to a box that is also installed underground. As flooding begins, an automatic system will release the lids to deploy the inflation of the tube that will protect the structure. When the flood comes in, the system will float on top of the flood — kind of like a pool noodle — and protect the structure from the water.
FloodFrame adds a level of security during flooding events and can be considered more cost-effective when compared to the high cost of renovating or rebuilding after flooding.
"Right now we are focused on residential but I think there's a huge potential for it to go commercial. A lot of commercial buildings are self insured, and commercial developers, industrial developers, this would be a drop in the bucket for the overall cost of the entire project," Nielsen tells InnovationMap. "For homeowners, it's kind of a bigger expense, but I think there is the potential for homebuilders to include it as an option in the entire package of a new house because when you put it in to a mortgage, it's only another like $0.50 a month."
A waterproof container for your car.
After the floods from Hurricane Harvey totaled her car, Rahel Abraham wanted to find a solution. ClimaGuard/Facebook
Floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey seriously damaged about 600,000 vehicles in the Houston area, which included Rahel Abraham's 2008 Infiniti G35. Now, Abraham's brainchild forms the backbone of her Houston-based startup, ClimaGuard LLC. The company's waterproof, temperature-resistant, portable Temporary Protective Enclosure (TPE) can entirely cover a compact car, sedan, or midsize SUV. It comes in three sizes; the cost ranges from $349 to $499.
To protect a vehicle, someone sets a TPE on the ground, a driveway, or another flat surface, then drives the vehicle onto the bottom part of the product, and connects the bottom and top parts with the zipper. Abraham likens it to a clamshell preserving a pearl.
"My goal is not to make it to where it's an exclusive product — available only to those who can afford it — but I want to be able to help those who it would make even more of an economic impact for," Abraham tells InnovationMap.
A network to find shelter.
Reda Hicks create GotSpot — a digital tool that helps connect people with commercial space with people who need it. Courtesy of GotSpot
It only took a natural disaster for Reda Hicks to make her startup idea into a reality.
"I had been thinking on what it would be like to help people find space to do business in and how businesses find a way to stay in business a long time," Hicks tells InnovationMap. "But, I was afraid of the tech."
Hicks, who has practiced law for almost 15 years, wanted to create a website that allows for people with commercial space — a commercial kitchen, conference room, spare desks, etc. — to list it. Then, space seekers — entrepreneurs, nonprofits, freelancers, etc. — can rent it. When Hurricane Harvey hit, Hicks was kicking herself for not acting on her idea sooner.
"It was really Harvey and having so many people desperate to find space for emergency purposes that made me realize there are so many contexts in which people need space right away for something specific," she says. "Certainly the primary user is the entrepreneur trying to grow their business, but there are so many other reasons why a community would need better access to the space it already has."
Now Hicks is growing GotSpot in hopes that short-term rental space and emergency housing can be smooth sailing no matter the circumstances. Recently, the company was named a finalist for MassChallenge Texas in Austin.
A water-absorbing tower.
Fil Trat would be able to absorb water, filter it, and release it into the body of water when the time comes. Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many Houstonians began to think of solutions for the next time Mother Nature struck with her full-force of flooding. Gensler designers Chelsea Bryant, Jordan Gomez, Luisa Melendez, Barbara Novoa, Benjamin Nanson, Maria Qi, and Melinda Ubera created a solution as a part of Gensler's By Design program called Fil Trat. The tower can absorb, filter, and store flood waters until the bayou is ready for the water to be released — cleaner than it was before.
During Harvey, thousands of people were displaced, but Fil Trat has a solution for that too. The tower's floors would alternate between filtration floors and shelters, which could house up to 24 families per floor.
While the suggested Houston locale would be by Buffalo Bayou, the group suggests putting the tower in other coastal cities at risk of devastating flooding.
Sensor-enabled rubber ducks that can track weather developments.
Sensor-enabled rubber ducks might be the solution to keeping track of major weather events. Courtesy of Project Owl
Nearly two years after Hurricane Harvey battered the Houston area, a flock of electronic "rubber ducks" flew above homes in Katy in a broader endeavor to keep first responders and victims connected during natural disasters.
Developers and backers of Project Owl, an Internet of Things (IoT) hardware and software combination, conducted a pilot test of this innovation June 1 — the first day of this year's hurricane season. In the Katy test, 36 "ducks" took flight.
"So, our technology can be deployed to help communities that have been destroyed after natural disasters by providing quickly accessible communications network to coordinate and organize a response," Bryan Knouse, co-founder and CEO of Project Owl, tells InnovationMap.
The DuckLink network comprises hubs resembling rubber ducks, which can float in flooded areas if needed. It takes only five of these hubs to cover one square mile. This network sends speech-based communications using conversational systems (like Alexa and Facebook Messenger) to a central application. The app, the Owl software incident management system, relies on predictive analytics and various data sources to build a dashboard for first responders.
Restored native wetland coastal prairies.
Memorial Park Conservancy is gearing up to unveil one if its first projects within its 10-year master plan redevelopment. Photo courtesy of MPC
Before it was the fourth largest city in America, Houston was a prairie. That type of ecosystem — thick with prairie grass — is very absorbing when it comes to rain water. Cassidy Brown Johnson, a Rice University lecturer and president of the Coastal Prairie Partnership, has been taking every opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of prairie restoration.
"It's really surprising to people that the trees and all this lushness is actually all artificial," Johnson says. "We know that this ecosystem evolved with the cyclical flooding events that happened here."
This movement to bring back Houston's ancient ecosystem is a new focus on a few prairie conservationist groups — and even the Harris County Flood Control. This has been going on for a while, but recent flooding events have opened the eyes of people now looking for reliable solutions to flooding problems.
"After Hurricane Harvey, people started realizing that this might be one of the solutions we could actually investigate and see if it can help us," Johnson says. "A green space is going to absorb way more water than a parking lot."
Memorial Park Conservancy's master plan redevelopment project, which is being supported by the Kinder Foundation, includes a lot of prairie restoration plans is expected to deliver by 2028.
The project is a collaborative effort between MPC, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks, Kinder Foundation, and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park. An ongoing part of the transformation will be stormwater management upgrades. MPC has budgeted $3 million to this asset of the renovation. While a part of the plan is tributaries for run-off water, bringing back prairie and wetlands will do a great deal to help abate stormwater.
"We're taking ball fields, parking lots, and roads and converting them back to what was here — native wetland coastal prairie," MPC president and CEO Shellye Arnold tells InnovationMap. "This serves important stormwater purposes."