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Lessons from Hurricane Idalia: Improving Data Collection, Tools, and Public Communication

Located on the coast of South Carolina, Georgetown County is home to some of the most beautiful beaches, marshes and rivers in the state. However, due to its location, the County is highly susceptible to flooding and faces a unique set of challenges due to its high rate of development. 

We sat down with Matthew Millwood, Senior Planner, and Steven Elliott, Building Official, who are responsible for floodplain management - among many other things - in Georgetown County. They shared some of the obstacles they’ve faced, how they got started with Forerunner, and how they used Forerunner to navigate the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia (2023).

When Matthew and Steven took on floodplain management responsibilities, their first priority was improving emergency management. They recognized the critical importance of accurate and timely data collection to facilitate recovery efforts, enable access to funding, and understand future vulnerability. However, like many communities, they struggled with accessing impacted areas and mobilizing teams and resources quickly for damage assessments post-disaster.

Due to a number of constraints they couldn’t staff additional personnel, so they spearheaded efforts to leverage technology and data-driven solutions for floodplain management and disaster recovery. Their partnership with Forerunner helps to increase their team’s capacity to collect data, streamline day-to-day workflows, and enhance public communication in the service of bolstering resilience against future disasters. 

Streamlining operations and workflows with Forerunner

Matthew and Steven decided to partner with Forerunner because it not only provided a platform for emergency management, but also supported resident communication and day-to-day floodplain management workflows. The platform integrates all their maps and data together in one easy-to-use software, which they use for important compliance tasks like permitting and reporting, verifying Elevation Certificates, and tracking Substantial Improvement/Substantial Damage.

Forerunner’s data platform has made a big impact on the efficiency of the team’s workflows and helped to reduce time spent on administrative tasks. The community has also found value in consolidating data and documentation using Forerunner both internally and publicly. Internally, having accurate and complete datasets helps Matthew and Steven better collaborate with other departments like public works, stormwater, and planning. Publicly, Georgetown County’s new Forerunner public portal has made it easier for residents to find the flood risk information they need to make sound decisions. 

Navigating Hurricane Idalia

In late August of 2023, the Category 4 storm, Hurricane Idalia, made landfall in Florida and swept through the Southeast. It was a devastating storm to many communities, with a total of $3 billion in estimated costs. 

In Georgetown County, the team needed to facilitate a coordinated response and wanted to complete their damage assessments as quickly as possible. Recovery dollars were at stake and it was important for the County to quickly identify where resources were needed. 

The team deployed quickly and used Forerunner’s Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) feature to complete their damage assessments in the field. The damage assessment form was easy for the field team and assessors to upload and complete on the go. It enabled them to quickly collect accurate data and imagery for each property, identify potentially Substantially Damaged structures, and aggregate all the data in one place for reporting. 

“Forerunner is very user friendly. You can export to a spreadsheet daily if you need it for your EM director, and it automatically shows what has been assessed and what needs to be done. It’s easy to keep everyone aware of things as they are happening,” Steven noted.

Forerunner helped the Georgetown County team get their damage assessments done faster and supported a cohesive effort across various departments within the County to consolidate crucial information for more responsive resident service and easier FEMA reporting. Their use of the software will continue building value into the future – having a better understanding of risk over time will contribute to a more resilient future for the county.

With the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, the need for collaboration and efficient data management has become paramount for local leadership. By leveraging innovative tools that foster collaboration, communities can better navigate the increasing complexities and emerge safer and stronger. We were grateful to have the opportunity to partner with Georgetown County through their Hurricane Idalia response – the team shared generous insights that have contributed to making Forerunner better!  We look forward to supporting Matthew and Steven’s continuing efforts to empower a safer, more resilient Georgetown County! 

If you'd like to learn more about how Forerunner can help your community please reach out or request a demo.

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