Are you ready?
The beginning of June signals the start of vacation season and all the fun that comes along with it, but June 1 is also the official beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. And, with hurricane activity peaking in September, there’s no time like the present to begin preparing.
“It seems like the season keeps starting earlier and earlier,” said City of Charleston Director of Emergency Management Shannon Scaff.
In his position, Scaff handles the logistics side of hurricane preparation for the city, including sheltering, transportation, sandbag locations, and ensuring residents are prepared for every scenario.
“My number one focus as emergency management director is making sure that we educate our citizens around Charleston about the true dangers of the named storm events or these tropical events,” he said.
Scaff was quick to discuss a disturbing trend among residents during hurricane season.
“I have found a couple of things that are very alarming to me, one of them being the sense of complacency that I believe exists in part due to the near-misses that we had with Florence,” said Scaff.
For the last three years, the South Carolina coast has been in the path of three major hurricanes.
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed four in South Carolina and 25 in North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. Matthew is most known for its historic rainfall, up to 16.9 inches in the Palmetto State. Charleston received almost 11 inches of rain during the storm.
Some projections for Hurricane Irma in 2017 depicted the storm swiping the U.S. Atlantic coastline. The storm devastated communities in the Caribbean before ravaging through Florida and Georgia.
Hurricane Florence marched through the coast into the mainland at a crawl last year, narrowly avoiding a direct collision with Charleston. North Carolina felt the full impact of the rainfall, over 30 inches in some areas. The National Weather Service described it as “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.”
“With these near-misses that we’ve seen, I believe with each one a little more complacency [happens], human nature takes over, and I just feel like some folks are going to get caught by surprise and they’re not going to be prepared,” Scaff said.
During Hurricane Florence, over one million people were under a mandatory evacuation across South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Daniel Island resident Ronnie Benner evacuated last year for the simple fact that it was considered “mandatory” by Governor Henry McMaster.
“As soon as we found out school was closed, we went ahead and we made reservations right away to go to Orlando,” said Benner.
Benner’s husband is a physician and first responder and she stated that if he cannot leave during a hurricane, they stay with him at the hospital.
Scaff also indicated that residents should monitor storm surges, specifically.
“We really need to respect the power of water and a storm surge does not equal category of storm, necessarily,” he explained. “And a lot of folks base their decision to evacuate on the category of storm. That’s dangerous, that’s directly related to the complacency that I just spoke about.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Ike produced storm surges of 15-20 feet above normal tide levels when it made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane in 2008.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina brought storm surge flooding of 25 to 28 feet above normal tide levels. The storm was a Category 3 when it struck Louisiana.
Hurricane Hugo generated a storm surge of 19.8 feet in Romain Retreat when it pounded the South Carolina coast as a Category 4.
To prepare for a hurricane, the American Red Cross recommends hoarding water for three days (one gallon per day per person), collecting a three-day supply of non-perishable food, and stocking plenty of flashlights, batteries, and a first aid kit.
“I like to tell everyone, ‘you’re each an emergency manager of your own home and your own family,’” said Scaff. “Your job as the master of your own home is to come up with your own plan, communicate that plan to your family, and exercise that plan or be ready to pull the trigger on it when appropriate.”
The director recommends paying attention to news reports about storms and being aware of hurricane outlooks until November 30, when the Atlantic season officially ends.
According to Scaff, rural areas, such as Cainhoy and Huger, have some additional considerations, but the rules are largely the same.
“You need to be familiar with your surroundings and understand that if you’re in a low-lying area, you are more than likely at a greater level of risk,” he said about less urban parts of the city. “Those of us who were here for Hurricane Hugo—all those tall pine trees came crashing down in the streets. You may be separated from the rest of civilization for a little while.”
Scaff adds that, in case the city is sacked with a hurricane, input from the community is the best way to keep Charleston safe in the future.
“A post-storm time frame is always really important to us, particularly in my office, because I’m always looking for lessons learned,” he stated. “I ask folks as we prepare for an event to please keep a running tally of things that they thought weren’t so good, and then I’m going to get them the opportunity to express those things.”
SOUTH CAROLINA HURRICANE HISTORY IN THE LAST 20 YEARS
1989 - Hurricane Hugo, Category 4
1996 - Hurricane Bertha, Category 2
1996 - Hurricane Fran, Category 3
1998 - Hurricane Bonnie, strong Category 2
1998 - Hurricane Earl, Category 1
1999 - Hurricane Floyd, Category 5 in Bahamas; Category 2 in U.S.
2004 - Hurricane Charlie, Category 1
2004 - Hurricane Gaston, Category 1
2016 - Hurricane Matthew, Category 4 in Caribbean; Category 1 in U.S.
2017 – Hurricane Irma, Category 4 in Florida Keys; Tropical Storm in S.C.
2018 - Hurricane Florence, Category 4 at sea; Category 1 at landfall
The following list of items is recommended by the American Red Cross to properly prepare for a hurricane:
~Water - at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day
~Food - at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
~Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
~First aid kit
~Medications (7-day supply) and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, cane)
~Sanitation and personal hygiene items
~Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
~Cell phone with chargers
~Family and emergency contact information
~Map(s) of the area
~Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
~Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
~Tools/supplies for securing your home
~Extra set of car keys and house keys
~Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
~Insect repellent and sunscreen
~Camera for photos of damage
For more information:
Visit https://scemd.org/stay-informed/publications/ hurricane-guide/.