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NEO Shop Talk October 21st, 2020
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Postcard from Houston

Posted by on September 1st, 2017 Posted in: Blog

Post hurricane street in Karen's Houston neighborhood.

If you visited NEO Shop Talk this week, you know that blogger Karen Vargas shared how her Hurricane Harvey ordeal sharpened her evaluator skills.  Her story ran on Monday, when Houston was still in the thick of the epic disaster. For at least 48 more hours, the family still carefully monitored the Buffalo Bayou water levels and determined alternative responses to employ if the flood waters reached her block.  In the end, her family remained safe and dry throughout.  Now that the rain stopped and the water is slowly receding, they believe imminent danger has passed.

Her story does highlight some lessons we can apply in evaluating “non-emergency” programs:

  • A logic model is meant for adapting. It is easy, when survival is NOT on the line, to believe a logic model is only useful for program planning. Our programs would be so much better if we kept assessing and adapting our planned activities to meet the changing environments of our programs.
  • More heads are better than one. Karen said both her initial and alternative plans were infinitely better because of input from her neighbors. The block “team” collectively had more ideas, experiences, and resources than any one person could offer. Karen believes this proves an important planning and evaluation principal:  Don’t plan your program in isolation if you can help it.
  • Recognize when a logic model has served its purpose and move on to planning a new program.  Now that the storm threat has subsided, Karen and her family are facing an entirely new set of needs. She has to find food to restock their pantry, daycare for her daughter until the schools reopen, and volunteer outlets to help their community return to normal. She said it’s time to replace the Harvey Response Plan with the Harvey Recovery Plan. Sometimes, though, project teams may not recognize when it’s time to stop tweaking activities and  seriously reconsider the relevance or viability of our outcomes.  We are hesitant to turn the page.

Karen’s last bit of advice: Always apply lessons learned from prior experiences and make note of new ones. From previous hurricanes, she knew to buy gas and water first. This time, she discovered that non-grocery retail stores, like department and drug stores, are better outlets for food when the masses are cleaning off shelves at the local grocery store.

The rest of the NEO staff was in close touch with Karen through the week, thanks to Skype and continued electricity at Karen’s end.  We, too, are just starting to exhale.  Our hearts go out to the Houstonians who were less lucky than our colleague and hope for the best possible holiday weekend for all.


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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.

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