DHEC’s role with hurricanes, floods and weather emergencies

Hurricane season image

When hurricanes, floods, or other weather emergencies threaten our state, DHEC takes actions within the scope of its authority that help protect people, property and the environment.


While the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) is the primary coordinating agency in the state during a weather emergency, DHEC and other state agencies perform critical roles that help protect our residents and help our state recover from hurricanes and other disasters as quickly as possible. DHEC assists with pre-storm evacuation support, dam monitoring, post-storm damage assessments and clean-up. In addition, DHEC is part of the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center before, during, and after emergencies, supporting a comprehensive emergency response.

Environmental Affairs

Dams and Reservoirs

DHEC is responsible for overseeing inspections and compliance for nearly 2,300 state-regulated dams through the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program. Regulated dams are classified as one of three hazard potentials: High-hazard (C1), Significant-hazard (C2) or Low-hazard (C3). You can learn more about these classifications here.

When a hurricane or heavy rain event is predicted:

  • DHEC may issue a notification to dam owners to lower their water levels. Doing so helps prevent flooding or dam breaches when the hurricane or heavy rain arrive.
  • DHEC dam inspectors may perform priority assessments of dams that are anticipated to be affected by severe weather to help make sure spillways aren’t blocked by debris and other visible concerns are quickly addressed.
  • After a hurricane or severe weather event, DHEC dam inspectors will perform dam assessments of impacted dams or reservoirs and provide guidance to dam owners who may need to repair sustained damage in order to bring the dam back into compliance and ensure the safety of those downstream from the dam.

Drinking Water and Private Wells

In areas where flooding is anticipated, DHEC will work with public water systems to ensure they have appropriate measures in place that protect drinking water and prevent any disruption in water service. DHEC also will work with water systems to ensure they issue boil water advisories when needed.

Additionally, for areas impacted by floodwaters, DHEC can help private well owners make sure their well water is safe by opening the agency’s private well hotline that provides information and resources. DHEC also can waive bacteriological testing fees for private wells impacted by flooding.

Public Health

Medical Needs Shelters

South Carolina has two types of shelters: General Population Shelters and Medical Needs Shelters. General Population Shelters are managed through coordination between South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS), SCEMD and local governments, not DHEC.

DHEC does oversee Medical Needs Shelters. These are shelters that provide lodging for people whose medical conditions exceed the capabilities of the general population shelters but are not severe enough to require a hospital stay. These are individuals who live at home and have a health condition that requires specialized, electric-powered equipment or need medication that requires refrigeration. Individuals in these shelters must bring an adult caregiver with them to care for them, as DHEC doesn’t provide health care services in these shelters.

Hospital and long-term care facility evacuations

Before DHEC issues a license to an in-patient facility like a hospital or nursing home, the facility is required to have an Emergency Evacuation Plan (EEP). These plans must address evacuations and all types of disasters, including power outages and flooding. The plan also should address sheltering, staffing, transportation, etc.

If a hospital or long-term care facility is evacuated due to a weather emergency by Executive Order issued by the Governor, the facility will follow its EEP. DHEC stays in connection with evacuated facilities to help address any issues that may arise during the safe evacuation of residents and staff.

In addition, DHEC works with hospitals and local officials to ensure medical services are available as soon as safely possible after the storm or other weather emergency has passed.

Care Line

As needed, DHEC will utilize its Care Line public information phone line to help provide important information to South Carolinians about medical needs shelters or any DHEC health department services that may be interrupted due to a hurricane or severe weather.

Mobile Care Units

After a hurricane or flood, DHEC may be able to deploy its WIC Mobile Clinic vans to provide some key services to residents in areas recovering from severe weather. The agency can use these mobile clinics to offer services like Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis (Tdap) and flu shots to adults as well as WIC nutrition services for eligible women and children.

Additional pre- and post-storm activities

Several other DHEC program areas perform additional essential duties, including:

  • Responding to hazardous materials emergencies.
  • Providing technical support to water and sewer facilities.
  • Assisting with solid and hazardous waste disposal and debris disposal at landfills.
  • Monitoring water quality and issuing shellfish temporary closures for harvesting areas impacted by polluted floodwaters.
  • Creating flood inundation maps and other GIS tools that can assist with recovery efforts.
  • Promoting food safety awareness for areas of the state experiencing power outages.
  • Working with DHEC-permitted agriculture facilities to reduce floodwater impacts to lagoons.
  • Performing post-storm coastal damage assessments by aerial surveillance.
  • Issuing emergency orders for coastal counties that allow for sandbagging and marine debris removal.

DHEC works in close coordination with SCEMD, the Governor’s Office and other state agencies and organizations to make sure residents have the information they need to protect themselves and their property during weather disasters.

Tags

Disaster Preparedness Office of Environmental Affairs Public Health Statewide