2017-05-19 / On Second Thought

Part Two

by Mike Cox

Before the water began receding; before FEMA showed up with forms and promises of money; before the threat of continued rain had diminished; volunteers, both official and freelance, were looking for someone to help.

Neighbors helping neighbors, strangers assisting strangers; people pulled on rubber boots and pitched in. This isn’t unusual. Anytime a major catastrophe hits an area, or someone suffers personal, devastating loss, folks feel the need to do something, anything that might help.

As local officials tried to assess the damage, groups of citizens moved door to door making sure victims were okay physically, and offering assistance for fiscal and emotional damage. Richland County’s Blue Ribbon Committee is a result of that spirit. Concerned citizens pairing with government officials to properly coordinate the aid. Again, not so unusual.

The folks of Tuscaloosa came together to recover from the 2011 tornado in much the same way as the folks in the South Carolina Midlands came together to recover from the flood of 2015. The difference comes in prevention of future events.

With tornadoes, communities can enact codes that require structures to be more resistant to the winds of a tornado, strap down out buildings, and plant trees far enough away they can’t fall on someone’s home or business. But tornadoes can happen nearly anywhere and can’t be accurately predicted.

Floods usually need a water source to inflict damage; a river, lake, or poorly designed drainage system, and they follow specific paths. Watersheds have naturally defined flows and floodplains. Human activity that alters those natural processes usually results in more severe and costly flood damage.

Humans have been living near water sources for centuries. Only recently have we decided we can alter nature’s course and live close enough to water to imperil property and life in the event of catastrophic rain events.

The Federal Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force was authorized by Congress in 1975 to begin work on a unified national program for floodplain management. Objectives and strategies have changed as the political climate has changed. After meeting in 1996, the task force lay dormant until reconvening in 2009.

Since then, FEMA has incorporated several plans that include climate change data as well as a shift to more natural floodplain focus. Although many changes have occurred since the November election, the direction of the Floodplain Task Force has remained consistent with more recent strategies. Whether that changes is anyone’s guess.

When officials in the Columbia area began thinking past flood recovery and toward flood prevention, mitigation began to be discussed. Buying property in flood prone areas to protect surrounding areas isn’t a new idea but is not easy to accomplish when one is dealing with residential or commercial locations rather than undeveloped natural land.

Five Points and the Fort Jackson Boulevard/ Devine Street areas aren’t likely to be bulldozed and replaced with trees and boulders. Neither are the subdivisions hardest hit by the flood waters in 2015. But there are solutions available. Open minded discussion and forward thinking might reveal something not yet considered.

This is the second installment of a series about the aftermath of the 2015 October Flood and what local officials might do, can do, or should do, to ease the devastation of future catastrophes.

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