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Posted 11/24/2015

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By Sean McBride


Just how much water is 11 trillion gallons* exactly? It’s roughly 636 16’x32’ swimming pools. It’s 130,370 Rose Bowls filled to the top. It’s one-third of Lake Tahoe. It’s also enough to end the drought in California. But those 11 trillion gallons of water actually came in the form of rain pouring down on the state of South Carolina, crippling most counties with epic flooding.

The damage sustained across South Carolina is yet to be completely determined. The flooding devastated farms, ruined homes, shut down businesses, forced highway closures and so much more. Additionally, many dams and canals were breached and washed away, sending even more water where it wasn’t supposed to go.

That’s where the Charleston District stood in to aid FEMA in response and recovery efforts from the storm. Per Homeland Security Presidential Directives, FEMA is the lead federal agency in disaster response, with the primary mission of reducing the loss of property and protecting the nation from all hazards. FEMA accomplishes this mission by building a comprehensive national incident management system by consolidating existing emergency response plans into a single, coordinated national response plan with government support from all levels. The Corps of Engineers’ role is to serve as the lead federal agency for public works and engineering. The Charleston District had six engineers, working alongside SC Department of Health and Environmental Control officials, inspect 682 dams in South Carolina over the course of two weeks, to ensure public safety and the protection of property. The engineers determined the extent of the damage done to the dam and prioritized which dams could be saved or fixed quickly versus the ones that were totally washed out. The inspection results were entered into a DHEC mobile app, along with photos, so the data points could be tracked using coordinates.

The District’s coastal engineers supported FEMA’s Preliminary Damage Assessment Teams in performing damage assessments on non-federal engineered beaches to capture the levels of damage and erosion along the coast of S.C.

The District’s regulatory office issued an emergency permit to the City of Columbia to allow them to create a dam within the in-breached Columbia Canal in order to raise the water elevation for the water treatment plant’s water intake. Without this work, the intake pipes would not have had the needed water for treatment and distribution of drinking water to the public. This emergency dam work also allowed for repairs of the downstream breach in the canal levees.

Additionally, the Charleston District had employees who volunteered to be liaison officers in select city and county emergency operations centers to help expedite the needs of local officials in a timely manner. The Emergency Operations Center at District headquarters was also buzzing, ensuring that logistics of operations across the state moved smoothly.

“Our emergency management team really rose to the occasion with this flooding event,” said Gilbert Dent, chief of emergency management. “Our team worked non-stop across the state to do our part in protecting people and helping the public get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible.”

The District also partnered with the Jacksonville District for the flood response mission as they aided the recovery efforts through the use of unmanned aerial systems to help assess the condition of four breached dams, the municipal airport and the canal in the Columbia area. After obtaining all of the appropriate authorizations, the UAS team launched the “eBee” with the goal of acquiring, processing and providing high-resolution images to give decision makers a point-of-view they wouldn’t normally have.

The effects and recovery from this event will be seen over a long period of time, but the Charleston District will continue to be community partners with whatever is needed.

*water estimates conducted by Ryan Maue of USA Today

emergency management