Report: Lessons Learned from the 2015 South Carolina Floods

Stuty identifies key areas for improvement to improved Southern resilience in the face of future storms.


A study published by ISET-International, a non-profit organization committed to building resilience, and Zurich Insurance Group, the global insurer takes a detailed look at the South Carolina floods. The study focuses not only on the impacts of the floods in the Columbia and Charleston metropolitan areas, but provides insights and lessons to better equip us to deal with these types of events in future. Based on interviews with households affected by the floods and people helping in risk-reduction and response and recovery at the city, county, state and federal levels, the study identifies key findings. It provides recommendations for enhancing flood resilience. The lessons and recommendations can be applied not only to Columbia and Charleston, but to many other communities exposed to flood risk.

Build back better.

Initiatives like the Resilient America Roundtable, 100 Resilient Cities, and other such programs are encouraging useful discussions on the topic of ‘resilience.’ In the face of uncertainty, resilience means finding ways to mitigate, adapt, and build on experiences and insights we have gained from past events. It means going beyond the physical and financial aspects that affect our decisions, and putting humans, society and nature at the heart of initiatives to increase resilience. It is very important that in the aftermath of a disaster, recovery efforts should be carried out in ways designed to enhance resilience and provide rewards for those who do it. This might mean setting aside retention areas that can take up flood water, giving more space to nature, and improving how we approach hazards. One particular entry point for discussions on resilience is how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approaches resilience; notably, FEMA’s ‘deferred maintenance’ policy. FEMA generally does not cover losses caused by ‘deferred maintenance’ (problems that existed before a flood), leaving vulnerable households living in sub-standard housing, and people in mobile homes unable to secure enough funding for recovery. Policy modifications are needed to better support these households to make a resilient recovery that will put them at less, not more risk, when the next flood occurs.

 Address misconceptions about flood risk.

Insurers, policymakers and others can help to clear up a misunderstanding about how often a particular event might occur. Some people wrongly believe that a rainfall or flood considered a ‘1,000-year’ event may reoccur only after 999 years have passed. But the statistically-attributed frequency of a particular flood gives no indication when it might occur next. Trends in temperature, precipitation, and sea level suggest that such events will not only continue to occur, but may even intensify and increase in frequency. …


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