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Texas Tech researchers find ‘disproportionate impact’ on communities experiencing outages during winter storm

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 9:28 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Texas Tech researchers discovered that Houston homes in lower socioeconomic conditions experienced more outages during the February winter storm than their wealthier neighbors.

Last year, a winter storm left millions without power or running water for days. The state reported over 200 Texans died from issues related to the outage.

The National Science Foundation has awarded researchers at Texas Tech and Texas Southern with a $30,000 grant to study the impact of the winter storm.

“We have seen this kind of a disproportionate impact in every single disaster. So this is something that is pretty much known in the literature,” Ali Nejat, Texas Tech civil engineering professor, said.

They analyzed satellite, nighttime photos of Houston before the winter storm on Feb. 7 and after the blackouts on Feb. 17.

Researchers placed the images on a map and compared the number of black pixels that changed to white, indicating that the power was restored.

Civil engineering professor Ali Nejat said they used census data to find the impact on different demographics.

“The counties that have a higher income, higher median income...they gain the electricity much earlier than the ones that had lower income. That was the at the county level,” Nejat said.

By studying the pixels, researchers found:

Single family homes and homes with more high school graduates experienced fewer outages than multi-generation homes and homes with fewer high school graduates.

More outages occurred in areas where people rely on public transportation and people who are linguistically disabled.

“What we would like to do right now is to kind of confirm this result by doing a survey of people within the area, and basically contacting the households and see what their experience was,” Nejat said.

They will begin this survey in coming months

Nejat believes that areas near community assets, such as hospitals and schools, were prioritized to keep power.

However, due to the history of redlining and segregation, community assets are historically not poor communities meaning less priority and more outages in these areas.

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