A LOCAL GUIDE TO BE READY FOR ANYTHING.
Story by Lisa Allen
While powerful weather incidents aren’t an everyday occurrence, relatively speaking, they run the gamut in these parts: floods, wind storms, a tornado a time or two, tropical storms and occasionally, a hurricane. Oh, and a remote risk of a tsunami, thanks to a friction point offshore.
To help residents and visitors prepare, the Beaufort County Emergency Management Division has written down everything you need to know in its very comprehensive section on the office’s website.
Information ranges from how to build your hurricane kit just in case, planning for care of your animal — from dogs and cats to chickens, cows and horses — and what to do if the rain won’t quit.
You’ll know in advance the procedures that if there is an evacuation, who gets readmitted and when. There’s comfort in knowing that public officials have given a lot of thought to keeping us safe.
Tap into all of that knowledge by signing up for text and email alerts via its Nixle system and for up-to-the-minute weather data. Always refer to the National Weather Service in Charleston and the Hurricane Center (that’s where the Emergency Management Division gets its information). You’ll get the latest from a credible source rather than social media rumors. (Goodness, people have some active imaginations out there.)
Also, don’t take this the wrong way, but don’t think you know more about what to do in dangerous weather than local officials do because you don’t. Refer back to the fact that the sheriff’s office has seen it all and builds on that knowledge. The emergency response team includes the 911 call center, so they’ve heard it all too. And they’ve written it all down. They’ve got this.
Before the storm
BE IN THE KNOW
“Hurricane Matthew taught us that more frequent engagement on social media and other communication platforms were needed to contain misinformation,” said public information officer Robert Bromage. “Since Matthew we have increased our Nixle advisory platform from a few thousand to more than 44,000 subscribers. Our Facebook has more than 30,000 followers, and Nextdoor includes more than 47,000 Beaufort County households. In addition, our website bcso.net now features a storm center.”
DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE
Yes, there is a fabulous new shelter being built at Jasper High School for people and creatures, but it doesn’t take reservations, and the accommodations are pretty stark. You have to bring your own three-day supply of food and water and a blanket or sleeping bag. Shelters, might we add, are in high demand in evacuations. If it fills up — and chances are it will because states south of us evacuate before us — you and your pets could be between a rock and a hard place. Don’t let that be you. Set up a just-in-case plan to stay with friends or relatives inland. Also, you can work out a plan with an inland airbnb or hotel too. Many discount or even waive fees in the event of an evacuation. Again, planning can vastly improve your comfort and safety in the event of an evacuation.
Make the most of a mandatory evacuation by planning a “hurrication” to an inland city such as Columbia. From whitewater rafting on the rapids of the Saluda River to admiring local artwork at the world-class Columbia Museum of Art, the Palmetto State’s capital city caters to sightseers and thrill-seekers alike.
Getting to safety
TRANSPORTATION The Palmetto Breeze service will transport Beaufort County residents to public shelters during a mandatory evacuation. If needed, school buses and other government vehicles will be enlisted too. But just so you know, you won’t be able to choose which shelter you are taken to, nor will you be able to keep your pets with you. The bus goes where it’s going, and it might be a different shelter than where the rest of your family landed. Thus, making plans with friends or relatives gives you more control over your evacuation experience.
THOSE BRIDGES To avoid possible injury or traffic tie-ups, emergency response teams are pretty quick to close bridges if they expect the winds to pick up. It ruins a lot of people’s day if a vehicle blows over and blocks a bridge. Sometimes there isn’t a way around.
PETS If shelters receive federal money, they must accommodate pets, said Tallulah McGee, director of Beaufort County Animal Services. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean your pet will be able to stay with you, but it will be taken somewhere safe. Another local ordinance to know about: If a tropical storm or hurricane watch, warning or evacuation is in effect for Beaufort County, no pet can be tethered outside. The ordinance was adopted after animal services staff kept getting calls from people concerned that a pet had been left behind when that wasn’t the case. Regardless, a member of the team of only three had to traverse the county to investigate, wasting valuable time.
WHAT NOT TO DO DURING A STORM
1. Do not ignore evacuation orders.
2. Do not stay in areas prone to flooding or at risk of storm surge.
3. Do not expect first responder services to be available during a storm or to be able to respond promptly afterward.
4. Do not expect an immediate restoration of utilities and other services. It could be weeks, depending on the amount of damage.
TSUNAMIS The chance of a tsunami here is very small, with most occurring in the Pacific Ocean rather than the Atlantic. But they do happen here. Tsunamis have been recorded on the U.S. Atlantic Coast in 1755, 1884, 1886 and in 1929. Thus, both Beaufort County Emergency Management Division and the Town of Hilton Head Emergency Management Coordinator completed the National Weather Service’s tsunami readiness training. They have a plan what to tell people and where to direct them. Naturally, residents right on the ocean have the most risk. On Hilton Head that means Sea Pines Plantation up to William Hilton Parkway and all of Folly Field, including Port Royal Plantation. Should a tsunami alert go out, people are encouraged to go to higher ground or move inland. A “reunification” center will be set up at Hilton Head Island High School.
In northern Beaufort County, areas of risk include Fripp, Hunting and Harbor islands. Get off those islands quickly: if needed, people can assemble at St. Helena Elementary School. Yes, the weather here can get a little exciting. Luckily experts have devised thorough plans to get us through any storm that comes our way, come heck or high water.
Beware of perils after the storm
Please follow advice from local emergency responders. It makes everyone’s life safer. If the sheriff says to stay off the roads, but they’re clear where you are, stay off them anyway. There might be downed wires that people aren’t even aware of yet, or trees might not be done falling. More people are killed AFTER the storm than during it. Sit tight; your routine will return soon enough.
FLOODS This applies to storms and those pesky king tides that combine a full moon with high tides at the most inopportune time, flooding streets on clear nights. Even if you think you’re safe in a car, just a few inches of water can turn your vehicle into an out-of-control, very unseaworthy boat. Don’t risk it. Don’t drive through flooded streets.
Returning after an evacuation
STEP ONE: Be patient. Storms are very messy, and it takes a while to clean up.
STEP TWO: Be nice. So many people are volunteering to help their neighbors. They’re doing the best they can.
STEP THREE: Follow directions from the Beaufort Emergency Response team. Your turn is coming. LL