- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - The 2014 Atlantic hurricane season begins Sunday, and officials in South Carolina are now enlisting the help of the public in gauging storm damage.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control has developed programs allowing people to provide photos and other information about both storm damage and unusually high tides from their smartphones, tablets or computers.

The original intent was to develop a program for municipal officials and coastal regulators. But collecting information from the public allows more eyes on the coast.

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“The more we started thinking about it, we wanted to design something that enabled the general public to provide us with valuable information,” said Dan Burger, the director of DHEC’s Coastal Services Division.

So MyCoast with two programs, Storm Witness and King Tides, is available by going to https://mycoast.org/sc .

A look at the programs:

Storm Witness

- This allows people to send pictures of beach erosion and damage to beachfront structures to regulators. The public can also send in text reports providing additional details. The reports will allow regulators to more quickly know which areas of the coast have suffered damage after a storm.

King Tides

- King tide is the common name for unusually high tides that occur about five times a year. On the South Carolina coast, a king tide is considered any tide greater than 6.6 feet, about a foot above the average high tide in Charleston. The King Tides program allows people to send pictures of such tides throughout the year, providing information to help coastal planners in gauging sea level rise. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report listing Charleston’s Historic as among the national landmarks threatened by rising sea levels.

Why Use the Programs?

- The programs get storm damage information to officials quickly or, in the case of King Tides, so it can be used for long-term planning. While people may be apt to post such pictures on Facebook, Burger said these programs will make sure they will get to the officials who need to see them.

Technical Stuff

- There have been other King Tide programs developed for use in other areas. One thing new about the South Carolina program is that when people enable location services on their smartphone or tablet, data about local weather and tide conditions is automatically linked to the pictures they send in, providing a more complete view of what is happening.

More Technical Stuff

- The two programs are not apps like one might download from the iTunes store or another third-party vendor. They are designed to work on any mobile device or computer. That means they are available more widely and DHEC does not have to worry about maintaining multiple versions of applications to operate on various platforms.

Will the Programs be Used?

- Burger notes people love to post weather pictures on websites and send them to broadcasters. “I hope this becomes a commonly used application for residents and municipal officials along the coast,” he said. “I think it’s a great way to share experiences and more importantly, information.”

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