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Program Locations: South Carolina, USA
Project Duration: December, 2015 - August, 2016


This project provides a post-disaster review of the 2015 South Carolina floods as experienced in Charleston and Columbia, two distinct urban contexts within South Carolina. This report explores why intense rainfall became a disaster, what worked and did not work with regards to disaster risk management, and how disaster resilience can be improved.

Focusing on what happened and why it happened, the lessons learned point to opportunities for building flood resilience locally and globally. This report is aimed at government agencies, donors, planners, disaster risk management professionals, humanitarian aid organizations and other on-the-ground practitioners.

Project Overview

Saturday, October 3, 2015 was drizzly and wet in Columbia, SC. Many residents went to bed thinking the forecast for intense rainfall and flash flooding was wrong. Fortunately, emergency personnel remained on alert. Less than 24 hours later, rains intensified and swollen rivers destroyed dams and threatened people and critical infrastructure. The city was awash, and first responders and residents alike were working to secure lives, safety and physical assets.

In Charleston, SC, a city subject to far more regular flooding, schools were closed on Friday, October 2 in anticipation and residents prepared. Nonetheless, the combination of record rainfall and extreme tides resulted in particularly severe flooding, at times in unexpected locations. Emergency personnel, already on alert and well practiced in flood response, responded quickly.

The October 2015 torrential rainfall and flooding in South Carolina is the story of one storm, but very different floods. Based on interviews with impacted households and people involved in risk reduction, response and recovery at the city, county, state and federal level, the study identifies lessons learned from the floods and provides recommendations for enhancing flood resilience. We believe that these insights and learnings can be applied not just in Charleston and Columbia, but across the US and globally.

Project Publications

Staff Involved

Kanmani Venkateswaran, Research Associate

Dr. Karen MacClune, Chief Operations Officer and Senior Staff Scientist

Sierra Gladfelter, University of Colorado at Boulder

Michael Szoenyi, Zurich Insurance Group

Steven Bowen, Aon Benfield

Matthew Schmitt, Aon Benfield


Funded by:

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