In the wake of recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, it’s become increasingly apparent that rapid recovery is extremely important to sustaining a community’s economic and social fabric following a disaster.
To this end, Beaufort County, South Carolina, has developed and plans to implement a comprehensive action-oriented disaster recovery plan that increases its ability and capacity to withstand and recover from a catastrophic disaster event. Similar to an emergency response plan, the recovery plan puts processes in place well before an actual event occurs.
Gary Kubic, Beaufort County administrator, says, “We’re proud of this plan and the extraordinary effort that has gone into its creation from nearly every community organization. This is a highly coordinated effort that defines critical communication links and operational responsibilities between public and even private organizations in the event of major disaster.”
“Our goal is to create a long-term recovery capacity equaling the short-term/immediate response record of success and solid service of the county emergency management department lead by William Winn,” continues Kubic.
The recovery plan, the first by a county in South Carolina and among the first in the country, includes a county-wide implementation approach that incorporates pre-event and post-disaster policies, plans, and implementation actions.
Issues and Implications
Beaufort County, located in the southeastern corner of South Carolina, is a fast-growing county and popular tourist destination with beautiful sandy beaches, scenic waterways as well as large areas of tidal marshes and wetlands. It is also a region highly susceptible to a variety of natural hazards including hurricanes, floods, and even earthquakes.
In previous disasters, the county has followed standard disaster recovery policies and practices that have been in place for many years around the country such as FEMA’s temporary housing protocols, for instance, or standard procedures to ensure continuity of government services. However, Hurricane Katrina exposed many disaster recovery issues and gaps in local, state and federal response and recovery efforts and one of the driving forces behind developing the recovery plan is to hopefully avoid such issues in the County following a disaster.
Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, many of the coastal communities in the Gulf didn’t know how to proceed after such a major disaster. The lack of organized reaction even for basic necessities further delayed actual recovery. As a coastal community with high potential for similar hurricane-related disaster, Beaufort County didn’t want that to happen.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Beaufort County took several immediate steps to improve recovery policies and procedures. For instance, the county adopted an interim disaster recovery policies and procedures resolution and plan. Updates were made to the emergency operations plan. These short-range changes were important steps to make sure that many elements of disaster recovery were addressed by some form of policy or procedure. However, county officials determined that there was a greater need to engage in a comprehensive disaster recovery planning process.
The county appointed a disaster recovery planning committee that included the City of Beaufort, Town of Bluffton, Town of Hilton Head Island, Town of Port Royal, the Town of Yemassee and chambers of commerce. The committee is comprised of representatives from area businesses, volunteers and community organizations that represent Beaufort County citizens and a national engineering and environmental consulting firm with special expertise in risk and emergency management.
This committee worked together for about two years to put together a disaster recovery plan, meeting monthly during most of this period, incorporating a range of ideas from individuals and involved organizations from the school board to utility districts, human resources to homebuilding organizations, and chambers of commerce, all the while building public support.
One Plan, Focused Results
“Our approach is to firmly base the disaster recovery plan upon a Beaufort County disaster recovery and reconstruction ordinance,” explains Kubic.
The county’s strategy for recovery operations generally covers the transition of emergency response to recovery activities, and general timelines for various recovery functions. The primary goal is to enable the county, its businesses, and residents to return to pre-disaster conditions as quickly and efficiently as possible. The ordinance serves as a policy guide for local officials in coordinating and implementing successful short-term and long-term recovery activities, and assuring consistency with state and federal disaster planning and funding requirements.
From the county’s perspective, the overarching recovery objective in times of a disaster is to assure both public safety and continuity of government services, particularly lines of succession for county council members and all essential Beaufort County staff (especially department heads).
For instance, the ordinance defines the Beaufort County Council as the governing body that will oversee all recovery operations. The Beaufort County administrator has vested operational authority and responsibility for disaster recovery coordination in both Saleem Khattak, director of the county public services department, and Morris Campbell the deputy administrator for community services. Khattak is the designated disaster recovery rirector, responsible to the county administrator, and Campbell as deputy recovery director. Both are seasoned career-long local government managers.
Taking Disaster Recovery to Task
One particularly unique aspect of the plan is creation of the Beaufort County Recovery Task Force, a standing task force that is active at all times. The task force members include the county administrator, director of the public services department, the deputy county administrator of community services, emergency management director, the Beaufort County staff attorney, county building official, county engineer, county planning director, fire chief, county sheriff, and the director of public works. Representatives from other departments and offices – such as the alliance for human services, assessor, county council, economic development, EMS, GIS, parks and leisure services, zoning, department of social services/emergency welfare services – are also members of the task force.
Recovery activities will begin in the Beaufort County Emergency Operations Center as emergency staff assembles data on the extent of damages. The recovery task force, activated by the Beaufort County Council, then will initiate post-disaster activities by integrating long-term recovery actions with those short-term response actions already underway.
The plan outlines the protocols and procedures to be followed for coordinating with FEMA and other emergency assistance agencies, federal, state, regional and local. The county administrator and the recovery task force members coordinate recovery and reconstruction actions with those by state, federal, or mutual aid agencies, providing necessary information on damaged and destroyed buildings or infrastructure, natural and technological hazards, street and utility restoration priorities, temporary housing needs, and similar recovery concerns.
A second unique aspect of the plan is a comprehensive list of recovery functions and associated detailed checklists (as shown in the sidebar on page 25) recovery checklists. Keeping in mind that each disaster is different, one of the primary functions of the recovery task force is to activate only those recovery functions that are needed for that particular disaster. The recovery task force also organizes and conducts periodic pre-disaster training and exercises to develop, convey, and update the contents of the recovery plan.
Where People Will Live
One of the major problems following a disaster is the loss of homes, apartments, mobile homes and other residential structures. FEMA is responsible for all temporary housing activities following a disaster. However, the Beaufort County plan will put in place framework for guiding where temporary housing is to be located, the types of temporary housing to be brought in, and how long the housing is allowed to stay on-site. The plan is to be updated annually. The first priority is to use county-owned property and perhaps existing mobile home parks for locating temporary housing developments. This process is coordinated with the county affordable housing coordinator, social services staff, planning, zoning, building codes, GIS and other departments as deemed necessary.
Post-recovery plans for repair and restoration of public infrastructure are equally well outlined in the ordinance. In case of disaster, the division of building and the division of code enforcement take the lead in re-building, repairing, and/or reconstructing damaged structures in an orderly, safe, and timely manner.
Although speed of reconstruction is critical, Beaufort County is equally concerned that the reconstruction process is compliant with appropriate federal, state, local building codes and local development requirements. Therefore, the plan establishes administrative procedures for an emergency permitting system. The procedures cover damage assessment, determination, notification, permitting and inspection to expedite repair, restoration, or rebuilding of safe functional structures.
“Another of our primary goals has been to work to ‘pre-qualify ourselves’ for federal and state recovery funding by insuring we are compliant with federal and state requirements,” says Kubic.
The Beaufort County disaster recovery plan and ordinance is in full compliance with National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 1600 Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs 2004 and meets the accreditation requirements of the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). The plan is also in compliance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the National Response Plan (NRP) and Beaufort County’s emergency operations plan (EOP). According to Kubic, the temporary housing sites review was built upon both NEPA and FEMA site requirements.
Annual Evaluation for Preparedness
The Beaufort County disaster recovery plan is intended to be dynamic, with the ability to adopt lessons learned from other disasters and to accommodate a very fast-growing county. As such, Beaufort County officials require that the plan be reviewed and updated annually in conjunction with the annual review of the current county emergency operations plan. During the annual review, the following tasks are accomplished:
- Evaluate the recovery management organizational structure and make changes as necessary.
- Ensure that recovery function standard operating procedures are accurate and effective.
- Address any membership or leadership changes.
- Provide update/status report on activities to complete listed in each recovery function; make additions as necessary.
- Prepare a brief status report to the county council.
As a result of a highly positive county-wide disaster recovery planning process, the Beaufort County School District determined the need to develop a school-specific disaster recovery plan to expand school district recovery planning. The district is a member of the general county taskforce and the two plans are linked and also incorporate many of the same approaches, sharing many characteristics. Since Beaufort County provides many disaster recovery services to the school district, the two have been working closely with each other to develop cohesive plans.
“We look forward to working with the highly qualified district staff to continue to pioneer new relationships in fostering comprehensive and coordinated recovery policy in the county,” said Kubic.
The recovery ordinance will go to county council in the next several months. Fortunately, Beaufort County has not had to deal with any recent major weather-related damages, but their disaster task force remains vigilant, regularly assessing policies and practices so they’re ready the next time disaster strikes.
John Webber has worked for Beaufort County since 1994. He is currently special projects manager, a position that includes the development of the Beaufort County Disaster Recovery Plan. Prior to working in Beaufort County, Mr. Webber worked for the City of Columbia, SC; Knoxville, TN; Las Vegas, NV; Economics Research Associates, Los Angeles, CA and Development Research Group, Seattle, WA.
Nathan Slaughter is a certified planner and floodplain manager with an experienced background in emergency management and hazard mitigation planning. He currently works as a Senior Planner with the national consulting firm, PBS&J. Mr. Slaughter has been with the company for five years and has served as lead planner/project manager in the development of hazard mitigation plans and disaster recovery plans for local and state government clients across the country.
"Appeared in DRJ's Summer 2008 Issue"