First there was the October 2015 flood, breaching dams and washing out roads even in inland areas which typically experience only minor impacts from storm flooding. The storm may not have had a clear name, but it required the greatest level of statewide emergency response since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Second, a year after that 2015 flood, Hurricane Matthew came, bringing coastal flooding as it scraped up the shoreline. Then, almost two years after that, the sluggish Hurricane Florence dumped a tremendous amount of water on the state, reflooding many cities and towns which were still working to recover from Matthew.
South Carolina disasters have often come in the form of rising floodwater in recent years, and this creates an obvious theme for SC Emergency Management Division Director Kim Stenson when he speaks at Hometown Legislative Action Day on February 5.
An Army veteran who has served SCEMD for the last two decades, and who has served as its director since 2013, will speak about the impacts of and responses to all three storm events to HLAD attendees.
While areas for improvement remain, Stenson said that these storm events were marked by good advance notice, strong leadership engagement and valuable prestaging of assets. In other words, the events demonstrated the utility of "extensive planning, training and exercising at all levels of government," he said.
Before Hurricane Florence, he said, "the evacuation went well. We had good information put out to locals on what we thought the water was going to do in terms of the flooding."
One aspect of disaster response where SCEMD is often pursuing improvements is the percentage of residents who comply with evacuation orders, and Stenson said he had seen some gains there during Hurricane Florence. Information management is another focus area: making certain that, in the midst of the tremendous amount of information flowing from news sources and official sources ahead of and during a disaster, the public information coming from SCEMD is as actionable for decision makers as possible.
Stenson encourages municipal officials to participate in county and statewide disaster exercises whenever possible, which helps promote integrating of services from the local level up through the levels of state and federal assistance.
Another key, he said, is for city staff to have disaster plans ready to go for their own families. This reduces the degree to which personnel have to worry about their own family members, he said, "when they're up to their necks in whatever is going on."
Learn more about SCEMD emergency response on Tuesday, February 5, at the Municipal Association's 2019 Hometown Legislative Action Day. The preregistration deadline for HLAD on February 5 and Municipal Elected Officials Institute on February 6 is Tuesday, January 22.
The deadline to make hotel reservations at the Columbia Marriott is Wednesday, January 10. Call 1.800.593.6465 or 803.771.7000 and ask for the Municipal Association of SC HLAD rate of $153 plus taxes.