Lessons Learned from Hurricane Florence

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Mike Wayts

Infrastructure Engineer

As this year’s hurricane season continues to challenge the Gulf and East coasts, officials will encounter multiple difficult decisions, including when or if to evacuate cities and towns before a storm to deploying resources during and afterward.

When Hurricane Florence threatened and then hit the Carolinas in September, Freese and Nichols had a team in place to help guide the South Carolina Department of Natural ResourcesFlood Mitigation Program before, during and after the storm and the impacts that followed. In South Carolina, we served as a trusted advisor to state officials and provided near-real-time rainfall modeling to help the state prepare for flooding risks.

With data from the National Weather Service that updated every 12 hours, Freese and Nichols’ team used HEC-RAS 2D with rain-on-mesh capability, beginning the Thursday before the storm and working continuously through the weekend, to deliver detailed modeling results so the client could make informed decisions. The team was responsible for modeling a quarter of the state’s land area.

To help interpret the data, Associate and Senior Project Manager Ed Dickson consulted with state officials, offering guidance that assisted their decisions on sending alerts and staging law enforcement resources.

Focusing and coordinating efforts helped to drastically reduce the number of rescues by state emergency teams during Hurricane Florence as compared to Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Here are some lessons reinforced by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence for preparing before the next storm:

  1. Set up one emergency communication channel. During disasters the public needs to hear only one consistent message from one reliable source to limit confusion. Collaboration among officials during Hurricane Florence ensured that a unified message was amplified.
  2. Establish a plan that outlines which key stakeholders should be involved in major decisions. Make sure the right people are included in calls where information is shared to determine the direction you should take in your preparation and response.
  3. Understand and trust the data. Before any data is collected, understanding what data you have and exactly what data you need are key aspects in creating successful and clear messaging.
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Mike Wayts, PE, CFM, is a Vice President/Principal and North Carolina Division Manager.