Cover Story: Charlotte-Mecklenburg natural disaster plan

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Flooding, ice storms, even a Hugo.  Is Charlotte-Mecklenburg prepared for the next natural disaster?

As we've seen in Haiti with that magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck a week ago Tuesday, no area is immune to a devastating natural disaster.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg's biggest threat is flooding.

In the last 15 years flash flooding here has killed two people and caused more than $100 million in damage.  While we can't prevent the next catastrophe, we can reduce the risks.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is updating its natural disaster plan and it needs your help.  Who better to ask than the people who've been in harm's way when disaster strikes?

The federal government requires communities across the country to update their so-called "Hazard Mitigation Plan" every five years.  Failing to do so could mean consequences no city wants to face.

It came after the devastating hurricanes, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and other natural disasters that knocked the country off its feet.

Congress 10 years ago mandated every city and county have a blueprint in place for how they plan to keep property damage, injuries and loss of life as low as possible in the event of a disaster.

Communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg rolled out their first plan in 2005.  FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires them to be updated every five years which is where we are now.

"We need to be prepared for anything that Mother Nature dishes out or that human beings might do by accident or to sabotage us," says Sharon Foote with Mecklenburg Water & Land Resources

What could happen here?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg has the most experience with flooding.  But we've seen one Hugo.  A crippling ice storm.  And severe drought, a disaster that can lead to wildfires like Myrtle Beach experienced last April.  Thousands had to be evacuated and nearly 70 homes were destroyed.

The Carolinas even lie in an earthquake zone, it happened in Charleston in 1886.

Bill Tingle is the Flood Plain Administrator with Mecklenburg county's Storm Water Services.  He says, "We've kinda been proactive on the flooding part of things. We have not been that proactive with the other disasters."

Proactive on flooding Charlotte-Mecklenburg through FEMA help has bought up property in the flood plain and moved people out.. 400 dwellings and 20 businesses in the last decade.

The city and county have also sought money for swift water equipment and training.  And received computer-mapping software that can direct traffic to shut down roads in the event of a flood or ice storm.

Where do we need to put more efforts in the updated plan?  The experts say how to better deal with wildfires, earthquakes and any other natural disaster that could cripple the city and county.

Tingle and others say while we can't prevent the next disaster we can try to lessen its impact.  And there is a financial incentive.

He says, "Supposedly if you don't have the plan in place and it's not adopted on schedule if there is a disaster then your community may be denied certain types of federal and state disaster assistance funding.. so that's the carrot."

The plan has to be finalized and approved by Charlotte, Mecklenburg county and the six towns in Mecklenburg and turned over to FEMA by this June.

Officials want to hear what hazard you think is the highest threat to your neighborhood.  There's a meeting at the Government Center on Thursday night and we have more information on look under WEB EXTRAS.

And there's an on-line questionnaire you can fill out.