10:32 AM

Debut of Gator Grit Speaker Series Assembles Harvey Heroes

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) kicked off the Gator Grit Speaker Series on Jan. 31 in the Welcome Center's Tour Room with a conversation with three heroes who helped the community during Harvey.

"Houston Heroes: Leadership During Difficult Times," moderated by Dr. Laura Murillo, CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, featured insights from Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez; Harris County Flood Control District Meteorologist Jeff Lindner; and Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña.

Murillo first asked Peña about his department's perseverance during Harvey. He credited his team of firefighters, as well as the other first responders in the city. Peña also gave kudos to Houstonians.

"The incredible support and response by the citizens to help their neighbors and do the right thing was incredibly uplifting for first responders and the city as a whole," Peña said.

Murillo later posed a question to Gonzalez, a UHD alumnus, regarding navigating the many responsibilities he faced during the historic storm.

"I had to keep saying, 'We're not going to surrender. "We're going to keep pushing hard,'" Gonzalez said. "I have an incredible responsibility to the people of this city, and I take it very personally. I care about the people in this county. I lead from the heart and try to be as analytical and pragmatic as possible."

A question from the audience focused on how community members can continue to help their city, particularly as thousands of Houstonians continue to recover from the storm.

"Be involved," Peña recommended. "Stay connected with the non-profits that continue to help those impacted by the storm. It may seem that the city is back on its feet, but people are still in need of help."

Another audience question focused on how the speakers and the city could prepare for another storm like Harvey.

"I don't think I'll ever see a storm like Harvey again," Lindner said to some applause. "The closest storm to Harvey happened in Louisiana in 1940. We'll continue to see flooding and storms. The definitions of 500-Year Storms and 100-Year storms are misconstrued, and those outside of the flood plain will remain at risk."

The event concluded with a final question from Murillo who asked the panelists on the aspects of leadership that help them—and can help others—rise above any challenges.

"You have to keep learning and pushing hard," Gonzalez said. "All of us have hardships and ups and downs, but we get through it. It's important to aim for greatness in whatever role you have. Working hard and being prepared will result in opportunities."

The next edition of the Greater Grit Speaker Series is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Feb. 15 in the Tour Room with guest speaker D'Artagnan Bebel, vice president and general manager of FOX26.