Case Study

Charleston County, SC Leverages OpenGov Mobile Technology to Earn FEMA Reimbursement

When flash floods hit Charleston County, SC in October 2015, damages exceeded an estimated $50 million. Learn how the county leveraged mobile technology to track thousands of disaster-related activities and generate documentation needed to obtain Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement funds.

The Challenge

In the Charleston tri-county area, the historic flooding event submerged roads and pushed rivers to their highest levels in decades. More than half of the state’s 80-plus road closures occurred in Charleston County, sidelining the population of nearly 400,000. The effects of the disaster on this coastal community lingered long after the rain stopped.

“Almost half of our road network in the rural part of Charleston is earth roads,” explains Ryan Peterson, technical supervisor for the Charleston County Public Works Department. “Six inches of dirt washed off, which put road levels within a foot of the tide. Because our elevation is so low the water had nowhere to go.”

2,000 disaster cleanup tasks Charleston managed with OpenGov

The ground was saturated and the groundwater table rose. Seasonal wetlands became log jammed. Dirt and debris accumulated in the stormwater systems. Field crews hustled to deal with uprooted trees, blocked and broken pipes, sinkholes, debris removal, and downed signs.

[Related read: EPA announces Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI) to replace 100% of lead pipes in 10 years.]

In addition to managing nearly 2,000 FEMA clean up work and repair tasks, the county needed to capture the right data to apply for emergency reimbursement funds from FEMA.


Agency Type

Annual Budget
USD 532,122,021.00

Public Works


Asset Management

Customer Results

Instantaneous Data Compilation

Mobile Data Entry

Comprehensive Disaster Management

The Solution

When the emergency was declared, Work Management Administrator Beth Cornelius set up a single work order in OpenGov. Workers were dispatched to inspect the damage and instructed to tie their tasks to that overarching work order.

This provided a single source for recording activity plans, time records, photographs, material usage, and other relevant data. With cost information attached, this also provided a real-time, total price tag of the disaster. “We looked at it daily and watched it grow very quickly,” says Cornelius.

“Given the magnitude of the storm, we had to have as much data and as many pictures as we could get,” says Benjamin Blanks, asset manager for Charleston County Public Works. “It wasn’t difficult, knowing we had one instrument in our hands that did it all.”

“We took a 3-month exercise and rolled it up in real time with the push of a button.”

One of the benefits of OpenGov, notes Blanks, is the ability to document before-and-after conditions. “We already had photos in the database of assets under normal, everyday conditions,” he says. “We could compare those against pictures of storm damage.” Workers also took photos at the beginning and end of each day to document cleanup and repair tasks accomplished, he adds.

In addition, engineering and storm water personnel conducted damage assessments to determine where temporary repairs were appropriate and what permanent repairs would be needed. All of this data was on hand when FEMA arrived to investigate the emergency. “I created reports for FEMA inspectors while they were here,” says Cornelius.

The Results

By using OpenGov’s disaster management software during flood cleanup and recovery, the county was able to send reports, photos, and time sheets to FEMA within 30 days. Blanks estimates that without the technology, it would have taken at least three months to put together the data required to apply for FEMA reimbursement.

“We would have had to take notes in the field, compile everything, and make corrections on paper,” says Blanks. “We would probably have four or five people entering the data into a database to expedite it.”

Instead, information was being updated and tracked on a daily basis and adjustments were easily made in the data capture process for FEMA reporting requirements.

“With our iPads and OpenGov [operation management software], it was basically instantaneous,” says Blanks. “We took a 3-month exercise and rolled it up in real time with the push of a button.”

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