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Port Arthur, Texas, sits on the Gulf of Mexico and is significantly exposed to flooding and hurricanes. Pamela Langford, the community’s Director of Development Services, works tirelessly to make sure that residents and local stakeholders understand their flood risk and how they can prepare for future events. We spoke with Pamela about some of the ways in which Hurricane Harvey, which caused significant damage, still impacts Port Arthur's residents now as well as how the city leverages resources and technology like Forerunner to adapt toward a better future.
Port Arthur is a coastal community in Southeast Texas. We have a unique culture and a very diverse community. The main thing that drives people to Port Arthur is how close knit the community is; that's part of what has really driven me to stay here. Even in a city of 50,000 plus people, there's not too many strangers. We’re also very well known in the birding community, we have folks come from all over participating in birding within the city of Port Arthur!
Hurricane Harvey put 80 to 90% of Port Arthur underwater. Immediately after the hurricane, we utilized our downtown area for sheltering, because it went largely unscathed. With the infrastructure that's currently in place, our downtown proved to be sustainable in providing post-disaster resources to citizens and staff. It’s also where we are currently developing the city most. Hurricane Harvey also took a significant toll on our infrastructure. In its aftermath, areas of the city that normally aren't susceptible to flooding now are.
Harvey took a major toll on this community. People still have residual PTSD from the hurricane that makes it hard to weather rain events in the present day. For the past three decades, we've traditionally been well prepared in terms of evacuating individuals from the community, and they're only coming back in after a disaster passes. But with Harvey, we just had a community that was trapped within the city, from rainfall we couldn’t have expected. As meteorological events become more frequent, it’s crucial to try to make all of the necessary precautions with any future disaster we have. Post-Harvey, we’ve really prioritized providing thorough information to residents, especially immediately after rain events.
Also, when it matters most, community members come to one another's aid. After Hurricane Harvey you saw neighbors helping neighbors and people from outside of our community coming in to render aid. Through so much devastation, it was still very beautiful to see people from different cities and states coming out to assist. We would not have fared as well as we did, if it was not for the support and help of others.
Our team immediately saw the benefits of Forerunner’s software when we were introduced to it, mainly because of what we went through with Harvey. We had problems tracking Substantial Improvements and Substantial Damages (SI/SD) after the storm, because everyone who was involved in the post-disaster recovery was new to that process. There was confusion around mitigating substantial damages. In addition to having difficulty tracking SI/SD, we also had issues providing flood risk information to our residents.
Forerunner is helpful to the community and our staff in post-disaster emergencies – we were inundated with calls during Hurricane Harvey with 50,000 plus people calling, wanting to know their flood risk information. With Forerunner, residents can simply go online and search their address - all of the information is populated. Being able to provide thorough information takes away the guessing, and this helps staff concentrate on other things immediately following a disaster.
Being able to provide thorough information takes away the guessing, and this helps staff concentrate on other things immediately following a disaster.
One of the biggest benefits is that Forerunner helps with Elevation Certificates. We’re in the Community Rating System (CRS) and we’re required to maintain error-less ECs for the program. I really like the new EC Error Detection feature because it will help me catch mistakes and make corrections before they impact my participation in the program.
When I’m providing flood hazard information data to citizens and insurance providers, it’s helpful to use Forerunner to view differences between our Effective and Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). The software allows us to track Substantial Improvement and Substantial Damage, so that we can establish benchmarks that will help us monitor development as it takes place. We can ensure that we are engaging with residents and property owners when they're nearing the 50% SI/SD threshold, and keep them informed when there are mitigation requirements for their properties.
Lastly, one of the best things about Forerunner is that it helps us educate residents and stakeholders, as well as helps to support city-wide decision making and enforcing rules as they relate to regulating flood zones. With Forerunner's public interface, educating the public and providing transparency to our property owners is easy.