In just a half-decade, fast-growing Columbia County has weathered two droughts, three winter storms, four earthquakes and nine floods, according to a newly approved hazard mitigation plan that will be used to guide recovery efforts in the event of a widespread future catastrophe.
“It’s something we are required to update every five years, and five years go by very quickly,” said Pam Tucker, the emergency services director, whose office revised the 3-inch-thick document approved this week by the Georgia and federal emergency management agencies.
The plan is both a blueprint for recovery and a prerequisite for seeking government aid when disaster strikes, she said.
“If you have this plan in place and approved, it is a huge assistance in getting money on time and being able to rebuild more quickly and with less red tape,” Tucker said.
The county has undergone changes since the original plan was adopted: schools, commercial centers, subdivisions and roads.
“When you have as much development as we do, the hot spots for flooding change, and there are new places that we have to include in our plans,” she said, adding that several dams in the area now have homes or businesses downstream from them.
The hazard analysis, which documented 46 severe thunderstorms in the past five years, is also a helpful tool in forecasting the frequency of bad weather and other dangers.
“Four of the eight tornadoes that occurred in this county for as long as they have records have occurred since 2003,” she said. “So we know there is the possibility there will be more and we can include it in our plans.”
The hazard plan includes details such as interim landfill sites where debris from a widespread catastrophe would be stockpiled. It also updates the value of development and assets that could be affected by disaster. For example, the total property value within the area that would be flooded in a dam failure is now is $569.9 million:
“The things you have to put down in terms of assets and monetary costs are important, because if you have a catastrophic disaster, this helps get money coming in to fix things,” she said.
The figures are also useful in getting hazard mitigation projects – such as elevating bridges or improving stormwater flows – funded and approved.
The plan’s next update is due Nov. 16, 2016, so local officials are already tracking changes that will be needed years from now.
“People wonder what we do on nice days,” Tucker said. “We’re writing things we hope we never have to use.”