COLUMBIA, S.C. – University of South Carolina researchers who studied last year’s historic floods presented their findings Friday in Columbia at the SC Floods Conference. There were 34 research projects that looked into everything from the dams that failed to the hidden costs of school closures to the impact on fish and wildlife.
Dr. Susan Cutter, co-chair of the conference, says, “For some of the projects, yes, they are purely academic projects in trying to advance science. In other projects, they really are trying to take science and move it into practice to help prepare for the next event. And we know there will be a next event.”
She says researchers found that a lot of people didn’t even know they lived in a floodplain and that their homes could get swamped, so now that they do they can be better prepared by doing things like buying flood insurance.
Kevin Shwedo, state coordinator for flood recovery, says one of the lessons the state learned from the flood deals with recovery. “The governor was smart enough to go ahead and stand up a South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office. It didn’t exist. It has never existed. But it allowed us to go ahead and work hand-in-hand with FEMA to begin working on both response and recovery,” he says.
Researchers also looked at the use of social media during and after the floods. Zhenlong Li studied the use of Twitter for quickly mapping the flood based on what people were tweeting and from where. He found a high correspondence between the number of tweets from a specific location and the level of flooding.
Dr. Cutter says, “So we can have people who become sensors, environmental sensors that are telling us the true extent of the flood and what’s going on at the time and who may need help.”
Shwedo says Dr. Cutter and her team developed a social vulnerability index, which the state used to decide who needed help the most. That way, it takes the politics out of the process. Shwedo says, “And it goes right up the chain so that nobody can come in and say, you know, a legislator or a person of influence come in and say, ‘I want you to take care of my constituent or my relative first.’ We’re going to do it apolitically from the most vulnerable up.”