With a tropical system in the Atlantic already making waves before hurricane season officially begins Wednesday, early preparedness is a sensible idea – especially in a state still recovering from last October’s historic floods.
Experts are urging home and business owners in South Carolina to review and update their insurance policies, consider purchasing flood insurance if needed, and plan ahead.
“Flood is the most common natural disaster in the United States,” said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the S.C. Insurance News Service. “It’s not included in basic property coverages.”
While flood insurance, largely written through the federal government, is easy to get, businesses face a 30-day waiting period for new policies, Dubisky said.
“You can’t wait until the forecast looks really bad to go out and get your flood insurance,” Dubisky said. “Last year is a good reminder of that.”
Last October’s floods were also no doubt on the minds of many at a hurricane preparedness symposium hosted by The Travelers Institute on May 26 at The Citadel in Charleston. The event featured a keynote address by Ray Farmer, director of the S.C. Department of Insurance, and the awarding of a $100,000 grant to All Hands Volunteers, a Massachusetts-based national nonprofit disaster relief organization that is working with flood recovery in South Carolina.
Erik Dyson, executive director and CEO of All Hands Volunteers, said in a release that the grant, awarded as part of the second annual Travelers Excellence in Community Resilience Award, will help the organization with rebuilding efforts and future disaster preparedness.
A forecast released earlier this month by IBM business The Weather Company predicted the 2016 hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30, will be the most active since 2012, with a total of 14 named storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a “near-normal” hurricane season, with a 70% likelihood of 10-16 named storms. NOAA did warn of uncertainty in climate signals influencing the formation of storms in the Atlantic that could make predicting the season difficult.
Named storms have winds of 39 mph or higher, while hurricanes have winds of 74 mph or higher.
Tropical Storm Bonnie triggered flash flooding this past weekend and closed sections of southbound Interstate 95. The storm made landfall on the Isle of Palms as a tropical depression on Sunday, marking second straight season a named tropical system made landfall in the Carolinas in May.
Dubisky said that 95% of last year’s flood-related claims in South Carolina have been settled. But the widespread damage from the so-called “Thousand-Year Flood” didn’t necessarily spark a statewide flurry of flood insurance buying.
“We’re seeing camps on both sides,” Dubisky said. “There are some folks who think, ‘Wow, that’s a good example for why flood insurance is needed,’ and others who, unfortunately, think and hear ‘one-in-1,000-year event’ and feel like the risk is now lowered. The reality is 1 in 1,000 doesn’t mean predictable return periods, that we’re all protected for the rest of our lives.”
In addition to purchasing flood insurance, Dubisky recommends that business owners maintain an up-to-date inventory and have a continuity plan in place in case disaster does strike. People are also encouraged to stock up on emergency supplies and have an evacuation plan that they communicate to relatives.
“Understand where risks are, what may happen, and how you can make sure you are prepared,” Dubisky said.
Last December, S.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ted Pitts told a Senate hearing held by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott at Columbia City Hall how flooding hurt business statewide. Michael Marsha, owner of Forest Lake Fabrics, described how his Forest Drive business flooded as four dams upstream on Gills Creek failed.
Estimates expected to rise put statewide damage from the flood at $1.5 billion. Research economists from the University of South Carolina have said the final amount could equal the damage caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 – about $12 billion in present-day dollars.