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Harris County, Texas is the 3rd largest county in the United States by land area. Home to the city of Houston, it is also the most populous county in the entire state of Texas.
Sitting at just 83 feet above mean sea level, Harris County is no stranger to flooding events. The County was hit most recently by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but also sustained significant damage from Hurricane Ike (2008), Hurricane Rita (2005), Tropical Storm Allison (2001), and even the Great Galveston Hurricane (1900)–known as the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
Darrell Hahn is the manager of Permit Operations for Harris County, Texas, and is also responsible for the county’s CRS program. In this role, he works tirelessly to promote building practices that minimize flood risk. Forerunner amplifies Darrell’s work in a variety of ways. Using the software, the County has been able to streamline its Community Rating System recertification process through easy-to-use document management and intelligent file exports. The software’s Elevation Certificate (EC) Error Detection feature acts as a backstop for compliance enforcement in the rapidly growing county and also helps to ensure that the community continues to receive their CRS discount. We had a chance to chat with Darrell to learn more about Harris County floodplain management, Darrell’s role, and how Forerunner has helped Darrell’s team manage their work.
Hi, I'm Darrell Hahn. I'm the manager of Permit Operations for Harris County, Texas. I've been in the job for about 14 years and currently I oversee all development for residential and commercial permitting in the county, including drainage review, driveways, any kind of residential development, etc… Anything that takes place on private property in the county comes to our office – we review it to make sure it meets regulations and that we permit it properly. A lot of my work involves fielding phone calls and emails from the public. People reach out to learn about how they can get a permit and ask about the status of their projects.
Floodplains make up a large portion of the county and they're going to get bigger. The new maps are coming out in a couple years and they will increase the size of the floodplain more than it is now due to Atlas 14 and the increased rainfall that come with that. If you've noticed the last several years, we've been getting more storms, they've been more frequent, and they've been bigger. We're trying to accommodate that future and permit accordingly. After every major disaster we've beefed up the regulations a little bit more.
Forerunner was a big help this last recertification. The program has really simplified the way we retrieve elevation certificates for the CRS visit and it really cut down the reporting time. It previously took many, many hours to consolidate all of the Elevation Certificates – now it's very simple to just grab the list and documents to submit.
The new EC Error Detection feature has been a huge success with our team. Until Forerunner, our workflow had been the same for a long time – we have a human being reviewing the Elevation Certificates and, of course, people can make mistakes. Uploading them into Forerunner to do an issue check acts as kind of a backup plan checker for us to catch errors before they're officially part of the county records.
The CRS flood insurance discount is very important to our county. For the last CRS visit we had, before Forerunner, it took us three tries to pass the minimum threshold of Elevation Certificate accuracy. This time we passed on the first try! It was almost like cheating on a test, the software has been a blessing.
Right now, the primary staff members using Forerunner on a day-to-day basis are Elevation Certificate reviewers who receive the documents and upload them to Forerunner. Managers like me can then easily access documentation if there’s an inquiry like: “Hey, do you have an EC for my property?”. I can go to Forerunner, quickly, input their address, and see if we have one on file or not. It's a very easy check for our records department once the EC is in there.
Another big benefit of using Forerunner is informing disaster analysis after a storm passes through. We usually go out into the community to take a look at what has been damaged – we have to quickly assess if structures have been impacted in the floodplain. If the water didn’t get high enough in the storm we can grant a permit on the spot, so knowing if a house has an Elevation Certificate can save us time post-disaster. We might not even need to go into a house or make an appointment with a homeowner for an inspection.
Oh, I'm a 10. Like I said, it's been a blessing for us –I can't say that enough. The system's very simple to get used to and it only takes a little bit of training to get familiar with it!