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After repeated natural disasters, Dorchester County working to update risk plan

Signs back up.jpg (copy)

Terry Roberts and Joe Daniel with Dorchester County Public Works replanted signs throughout the county after winds from Hurricane Dorian blew several from their posts. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

A federally declared natural disaster-type event has struck Dorchester County in each of the past five years, causing cities to apply for federal reimbursement grants for land acquisition, stormwater services to combat flooding and critical infrastructure needs to deal with wastewater. 

The county works every five years to lay out where it is at risk for various natural disasters through what's called a Hazard Mitigation Plan. As it begins work again to update its objectives, it's taking the increased frequency of those disasters into account. 

"We’ve had a federally declared event each year since the (last) update, which has resulted in a number of jurisdictions applying for hazard mitigation grants," said Mario Formisano, Dorchester County director of emergency management.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires that counties have an HMP in place to identify risks to simplify the process of applying for reimbursement grants after a natural disaster strikes.

Work on the 2020 update to the HMP began in May 2018, a process which Formisano said has many challenges as it includes not only risks to Dorchester County but also the challenges that face its individual cities. Moreover, the FEMA requirements for updating a risk mitigation plan include public involvement, risk assessment and a mitigation strategy — all of which involve countless stakeholders. 

Despite the uptick in the frequency of natural disasters, Formisano said the HMP doesn't explicitly mention climate change as an ongoing risk to the county. 

This, he said in a follow-up email, is because the point of the HMP is to identify the specific hazards that impact Dorchester County.

"Climate change is not a hazard per se," he said. "However, the data collected for each hazard, as it relates to severe weather, tropical storms, drought, and extreme heat, can certainly be analyzed to generate assumptions on the increase/decrease in weather extremes/patterns to include more frequent and or intense events.

Dorchester County is still in the process of gathering public input on where the greatest risks are to the county and its cities. Residents of the following areas are invited to respond to the county's Hazard Mitigation Survey by Friday: Harleyville, Lincolnville, North Charleston, Ridgeville, Reevesville, St. George, Summerville and unincorporated Dorchester County.

The 25-question survey includes a range of questions on flooding, the biggest threats to an individual neighborhood, whether the homeowner has taken actions on their own to make their residence more resistant to natural disasters and how prepared the county is for a disaster. 

A draft plan of the HMP update will be available for public review after Jan. 1 and the county Emergency Management Department will begin presenting an overview of the plan to town councils in the county by March or April, Formisano said.

The current HMP expires Oct. 27, 2020.

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Contact Conner Mitchell at 843-958-1336. Follow him on Twitter at @ConnerMitchell0.

Conner Mitchell is a Kansas native covering Berkeley and Dorchester counties for The Post and Courier. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and has worked previously at the Kansas City Star, Lawrence Journal-World and Palm Beach Post.

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