Higher Regulatory Standards Make Coastal County Safer
After Hurricane Katrina—with her high winds and 27-foot tidal surge—hit Harrison County, Mississippi, in 2005, “we all realized that, if we were going to live here, we had to build back stronger, better, and safer,” says Charles Stallings, the county’s Floodplain Manager. “It’s not ‘if’ we’re going to have that storm, but ‘when.’”
The county encompasses almost 1,000 square miles of both coastline and upland hills, so it faces more than one type of flood-related hazard. Traditionally, the economy supporting its 196,000 people has been based largely on coastal recreation, which has been enhanced recently by casino-based entertainment and tourism.
Higher Regulatory Standards and Enforcement of Them
“Higher regulatory standards and enforcement of the codes are the two things that are helping us build safer, stronger, and better,” Stallings says. Strict standards can help reduce the damage, but if you don’t enforce those standards, “they become worthless.”
The Community Rating System provided Harrison County with the roadmap to the specific standards that reduce losses. “We earn CRS credit for implementing these standards because they will result in less damage and, in the real world, that is the most important thing,” Stallings notes. “It will pay huge dividends when we have another hurricane.” He cites several examples of measures the county has adopted to make its residents safer over the long run.
- Adopting the new Federal Emergency Management Agency coastal maps that incorporated the observations of how deep Katrina’s storm surge and other flooding was, and where it occurred;
- Adding two feet of freeboard to the base flood elevations—giving a significant safety margin to account for unanticipated factors during a storm;
- Requiring engineered foundations in the special flood hazard area, to ensure that structures will be strong enough to withstand storms;
- Enforcing the more-stringent “V-Zone” standards in other zones, to take into account the potential for wave action’s affecting a larger area than anticipated;
- No fill is allowed in any part of the mapped special flood hazard area, no matter what its zone designation. This helps keep the land surface in a more nearly natural state and is a big factor in protecting the environment.
To enforce its standards, Harrison County uses a unified enforcement program that includes building, wind, fire, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and floodplain management codes. The CRS requirements, documentation, and procedures have been incorporated into this system and have made it stronger. “They all have to work together,” says Stallings. Not only are the various codes easier to enforce as a group, but a community can earn more CRS points through the Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS),” he noted.
According to Stallings, the enforcement system works well because of
- Support from the County Supervisors;
- A dedicated and knowledgeable code administrator;
- A knowledgeable and well trained staff of code inspectors (four inspectors are Certified Floodplain Managers) and;
- The team approach.
When the staff goes into the field to inspect a project, they look at all components of the construction, not just those that fall within their own area of expertise. “They are trained to spot any and all infractions,” Stallings explains, “and that makes a big difference.”
Stallings gives a lot of credit to the Director of Code Administration, Theresa Hydrick, whose 40 years of experience with Harrison County has made her knowledgeable about local conditions. Working equally well with the Board of Supervisors and the code enforcement employees, she brings strong leadership and makes sure that everyone from the top to the bottom is on board with both code enforcement and the CRS. “Hydrick saw the need for training for all of the staff and supported their floodplain manager certifications,” Stallings explains. “Leadership like hers is one reason we have such a good CRS program.”
Coastal Hazardous Outreach Strategy Team
Harrison County is part of the Coastal Hazardous Outreach Strategy Team (C-HOST), a group of Gulf Coast communities that formed a CRS Users Group. “This is one of the best programs we have,” Stallings says. The group meets monthly to share ideas, develop outreach programs, and meet with the public on the CRS program. “When citizens and elected officials all up and down the Gulf Coast hear the same unified message about floodplain management and the CRS, it helps us all become safer.”
Editor’s note: This is just a snapshot of the numerous floodplain management and CRS activities being carried out in Harrison County. For more details, see the county’s website.