Hurricane Florence: Six Months Later
By County Manager Chris Coudriet
It has been six months already, since Hurricane Florence made landfall in New Hanover County.
This storm was unlike any other we have seen in recent history. It had been 19 years to the day (Hurricane Floyd made landfall September 14, 1999) since our community had seen a storm near this magnitude. Florence lingered for days, bringing hurricane force winds to our community for hours on end, and caused unprecedented flooding when it dropped more than 30 inches of rain.
While New Hanover County holds hurricane exercises each year, many of our county employees had never been asked to serve for more than a few hours or few days at most during an emergency; and many of our residents, having moved here within the last 19 years, had never experienced a hurricane at all. And still, our community has a tremendous amount to be proud of.
We came together and took care of one another. Our employees served in emergency roles for 21 days and operated shelters for 10 days. New Hanover County Fire Rescue conducted more than 350 rescues; we stood up a base camp which housed more than 550 first responders from all over the country; and the Community Recovery Resource Center, set up immediately after the storm, served more than 22,000 residents. Not to mention, the countless efforts in neighborhoods, churches, charitable organizations and businesses to bring vital supplies to individuals throughout our community. But this was only the beginning.
We have had six months to reflect, analyze and contemplate our response to Hurricane Florence. While it sometimes feels like the storm has only just passed, much has been done in hurricane recovery efforts in our community.
We value continuous improvement in all county operations, and after Hurricane Florence, it was imperative to embrace that value more than ever. In October we started a series of after action review debrief sessions with employees, businesses, non-profit organizations, faith-based communities and other partners that played a role in response to Hurricane Florence. We took an honest look at all that occurred, and received valuable feedback on what we can do better next time. All of this was compiled into an After Action Report which was presented to the Board of Commissioners on March 18.
From this report, the board will be considering policies in the areas of staffing, shelters and evacuation. And we are already working with our partners on things like expanding our communications efforts internally and externally, and creating detailed staffing, volunteer and donations management plans.
Moving forward, there is still much to do. Our Hurricane Florence Recovery Coordination Office, which we opened October 15, is working hard with all of our departments and community partners on long-term recovery. This office, which has a dedicated mission of storm recovery, is unique to New Hanover County, being the only locally-focused storm recovery office in the state. The team is working in the areas of housing, infrastructure, health and human services and economic recovery, as well as community planning and resilience.
We’ve developed a Long-Term Recovery Plan, detailing how each focus area of hurricane recovery and specific projects align with our strategic plan and the needs of our community. This includes about 29 stormwater projects across 7 watersheds to improve drainage and reduce the potential for future flooding, and working with the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency to best leverage disaster recovery funding to address housing.
Nearly 6,000 residential properties, 1,200 affordable housing units and 22 mobile home parks sustained damage from the storm, and we need to build back not only what we had, but more, and of higher resilience.
We have applied for Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs on behalf of our residents and continue to actively work with FEMA to get additional travel trailers and mobile home units into our community. The Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) Program will put more than 300 homeowners back in their home by April 2, and our non-profit and faith-based partners are making miracles happen every day.
This is only a fraction of what is happening and what is ahead. I hope you will take a minute to review our After Action Review and Long Term Recovery Plan at HurricaneRecovery.NHCgov.com. While you’re there, you can see how we are moving forward in hurricane recovery and also find ways to get involved.
As Hurricane Season approaches June 1, I hope you will reflect on your own emergency plans so that we can all be better prepared and more resilient as a community moving forward. I assure you that New Hanover County will continue to focus on hurricane recovery and our own preparedness plans, so that we can best serve our community now and in the future.