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FEMA reporting during a $3.5 million flood event

Charleston County, South Carolina

A record rainfall pounded South Carolina for several days in early October 2015, producing flash flooding, forcing emergency evacuations, and causing power outages that affected 30,000 customers. Ten counties and municipalities declared states of emergency.

In Charleston County alone, operational costs to manage the disaster exceeded $3.5 million including emergency contract costs, EOC activation, etc., with damage estimates exceeding $50 million. The Public Works Department used Cartegraph in the office and on iPads in the field to track thousands of disaster-related activities and generate documentation needed to obtain Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement funds.


In the Charleston tri-county area, the historic flooding event submerged roads and pushed rivers to their highest levels in decades. More than half of the state’s 80-plus road closures occurred in Charleston County, sidelining the population of 350,000. The effects of the disaster on this coastal community lingered long after the rain stopped.

“Almost half of our road network in the rural part of Charleston is earth roads,” explains Ryan Peterson, technical supervisor for the Charleston County Public Works Department. “Six inches of dirt washed off, which put road levels within a foot of the tide. Because our elevation is so low the water had nowhere to go.”

The ground was saturated and the groundwater table rose. Seasonal wetlands became log jammed. Dirt and debris accumulated in the stormwater systems. Field crews hustled to deal with uprooted trees, blocked and broken pipes, sinkholes, debris removal, and downed signs.

In addition to managing nearly 2,000 cleanup and repair tasks, the county needed to capture the right data to apply for emergency reimbursement funds from FEMA.


When the emergency was declared, work management administrator Beth Cornelius set up a single work order in Cartegraph. Workers were dispatched to inspect the damage and instructed to tie their tasks to that overarching work order. This provided a single source for recording activity plans, time records, photographs, material usage, and other relevant data. With cost information attached, this also provided a real-time, total price tag of the disaster—“We looked at it daily and watched it grow very quickly,” says Cornelius.

“Given the magnitude of the storm, we had to have as much data and as many pictures as we could get,” says Benjamin Blanks, asset manager for Charleston County Public Works. “It wasn’t difficult, knowing we had one instrument in our hands that did it all.”

One of the benefits of Cartegraph, notes Blanks, is the ability to document before-and-after conditions. “We already had photos in the database of assets under normal, everyday conditions,” he says. “We could compare those against pictures of storm damage.” Workers also took photos at the beginning and end of each day to document cleanup and repair tasks accomplished, he adds.

In addition, engineering and stormwater personnel conducted damage assessments to determine where temporary repairs were appropriate and what permanent repairs would be needed. All of this data was on hand when FEMA arrived to investigate the emergency. “I created reports for FEMA inspectors while they were here,” says Cornelius.


By using Cartegraph technology during flood cleanup and recovery, the county was able to send reports, photos, and time sheets to FEMA within 30 days. Blanks estimates that without the technology, it would have taken at least three months to put together the data required to apply for FEMA reimbursement.

“We would have had to take notes in the field, compile everything, and make corrections on paper,” says Blanks. “We would probably have four or five people entering the data into a database to expedite it.”

Instead, information was being updated and tracked on a daily basis and adjustments were easily made in the data capture process to meet FEMA requirements.

“With our iPads and Cartegraph OMS, it was basically instantaneous,” says Blanks. “We took a three-month exercise and rolled it up in real time with the push of a button.”