Use lessons learned from prior storms to prep for hurricanes

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After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, many residents returned to Beaufort County before the official word was given that access was open. Hundreds of cars were stranded alongside I-95 until the official go-ahead was given. FILE PHOTO

The official hurricane season in the Lowcountry is June 1 to Nov. 30. No resident will forget hurricanes Matthew and Irma of the recent past, and the water and wind damage they did to our beautiful landscape and homes.

Lessons have been learned and emergency preparedness game plans have been revised and adjusted since then.

Real-time reliable communication using social media as the platform was at the top of the list for local officials. They are prepared and ask residents to be prepared, too. Be informed and be ready.

"Everyone should have a plan," said Tom Dunn, emergency management coordinator for the Town of Hilton Head Island. "It doesn't have to be complicated. Your preparedness plan is about you. Make a plan that works for you, for the evacuation and the return."

The town itself uses a national emergency operations manual developed by FEMA. It goes into detail about what towns should do before, during and after natural disasters. The town incorporates its core information and guidelines into a detailed action plan specifically for the island and its residents.

"Our overarching plan is built to handle any type of emergency - hurricane, earthquake, tornado, whatever the case might be," said Dunn, a member of Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue. "We have a separate hurricane annex to our plan that gets into more detail."

The key to the island's agenda is the "process" of dealing with imminent natural disaster before, during and after the event. Which means, each town staff member has a script of action that describes what each staffer's role and responsibilities are and whether they will be on or off island. Dunn calls it a "vertical operations support team."

"We learn something from every event," Dunn said. "One of the larger lessons learned from Matthew was the process; how we worked through our plan during the event. Today we are developing our action plan for tomorrow. We feel really good about where we are working that process. In a real-world event, we make adjustments in how the process works. We focus on how to do that better."

The town is asking residents to submit hurricane-related questions to its online forum at hiltonheadislandsc.gov/opentownhall. Submission deadline is June 11, and overall themes will be addressed and answered in short videos online.

The town and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office both have vital hurricane information on their websites to assist and inform residents about how to prepare and what do in case of nature's emergencies: bcso.net/emergency-management-division and hiltonheadislandsc.gov/publicsafety.cfm.

Dunn is in regular contact with BCSO, which oversees all emergency planning, evacuation and return for the county. "We talk constantly," Dunn said. "There's lots of coordination between our two offices."

The county's emergency management division, headed by commander Lt. Col. Neil Baxley, posts a current hurricane guide that includes a glossary of terms for storm watches and warnings, a list of television and radio stations that broadcast emergency alerts, property insurance information, wind damage categories and water surges, safety tips, important contact resources, evacuation routes and lane reversals, evacuation zones and actions, basic disaster supply kit materials, social media platforms and more.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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