For the past few years, we've brought you a lot of stories about recovery from the 2015 floods and Hurricane Matthew. Many people across the state might be wondering "isn't this recovery taking a long time?" As JR Sanderson, Program Director for the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office, explains, the answer is yes—and no.
"If you're a citizen, and you're in Andrews, South Carolina, or you're in Nichols, South Carolina, you look at us, and you'll say, 'wow, you guys move very, very slow.' And that's a fair assessment. It's hard to debate that proposition," Sanderson said. "Having said that, if you look at us and you compare us to any other jurisdiction in America that has operated under Disaster Recovery Funds, we are lightyears, I mean truly lightyears ahead."
The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office, or SCDRO, is one of the major players in the state's ongoing recovery. It's a temporary agency created specifically to restore safe housing to the most vulnerable residents whose homes were seriously damaged by the storms, funded by a block grant from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.
Sanderson said SCDRO's status as a temporary agency actually enables it to be more efficient.
"I guess if there's any legacy in this for me, it would be 'get it done, and then go home.' Accomplish something faster than it's ever been done in the history of public administration, and do it right. I'm more interested in building houses than I am trying to build up a bureaucracy," he said.
Much of the staff at SCDRO, including Sanderson, comes from military backgrounds. Agency Operations Manager Ransford "Ran" Reinhard, who spent over 30 years in the army, thinks that shared experience helps the organization function efficiently.
"I'd probably say at least a third of our force is military of some sort, predominantly Army. We have two or three Navy personnel as well," said Reinhard. "It does kind of help that we have a discipline, speak the same language, have the same work ethic."
But, as Sanderson points out, folks who are still waiting for assistance aren't concerned with whether the organization is efficient on a bureaucratic level; to them, the process can be frustratingly slow. The most recent resident to receive a new mobile home from SCDRO is Betty Smith, of the Rains community in Marion County, who is a veteran herself. Because Smith has severe asthma, living with the mold that had set into her home after Matthew was a serious health risk. She advises those who are still waiting for aid to have patience.
"I never called them to say, 'well, when will y'all get to my case,' or whatever. I just waited until the process came to me, because she said it would take from 30 to 90 days, which it did. It took that long, about 90 days, but like I say, if they would wait on them, everything would fall in place."
Getting to the point where things "fall in place" isn't easy, though, for storm victims or for recovery staff, according to Sanderson.
"I tell people in jest that, you know, I've planned and executed invasions of third world countries that are not as tough as disaster recovery," he said.
The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office has completed 40 home repair or replacement projects for victims of Hurricane Matthew, and over 950 for victims of the 2015 floods. There are still hundreds to go.