Seabrook Island’s Disaster Recovery Council Review

Highlights from the Hurricane Matthew After Action Review by Seabrook Island’s Disaster Recovery Council

Seabrook Island’s Disaster Recovery Council (DRC) met on October 27, 2016 to conduct an After Action Review of its work during Hurricane Matthew. (Reminder: The DRC includes staff and volunteers representing various entities and institutions on the island, specifically Town government, SI Property Owner’s Association, Club, SI Utility Commission, Camp St. Christopher, Bohicket Marina, St. Johns Fire District, and our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). The jointly developed Town of Seabrook Island Comprehensive Emergency Plan defines the group’s response activities for a number of kinds of emergency.)

The Review was led by Scott Cave, consultant to the DRC, who commented, “Every event is a learning opportunity.” The meeting’s agenda corresponded to questions included in a survey that Cave had sent to all DRC members, and discussion focused on identifying areas for improvement.

DRC members rated the response to Matthew very high (4 on a scale of 5), and there was broad agreement that “we dodged a bullet” because Matthew had weakened by the time it arrived on Seabrook A unique aspect of Matthew was the rapid escalation of OPCON levels from 3 up to 1 prior to landfall, and then the rapid movement from OPCON 1 down to 5 after the storm, making it necessary for the Town and DRC to proceed very quickly through the many steps defined for each phase of hurricane response.

Highlights from the meeting discussion follow:

  • The Town will evaluate ways to improve its communication with property owners, some thoughts being: expand use of CodeRED communications; provide community notices more frequently, perhaps on a time schedule (even if a posted notice has to say “no new information; we’re working to get updates”); and examine feasibility of creating a Town database with property owners’ contact information so status updates can be sent directly to residents.
  • The Town and DRC will prioritize steps in each phase of the Emergency Plan to make it easier to perform essential duties first, and also to aid substitute personnel in performing the essential duties of any individual not present at the (During Matthew, one councilman was far away on vacation and a staff member was recuperating from surgery.)
  • An effort will be made to co-locate the Town’s leaders with leaders of SIPOA/Club during evacuation, also to post one person at the Charleston County’s Emergency Operations Center. The Town will also ensure that SIPOA and Club are represented on the Town’s Municipal Emergency Operations Center conference calls/meetings that are conducted during evacuation and upon return to the area and to the island.
  • The Town will talk to Charleston County about being more responsive to our requests for Seabrook-specific information, for example by providing status of Sheriffs Department postings for traffic management/roadblocks both before and immediately following landfall and also, post-hurricane, by sharing their fly over observations of Seabrook’s condition.
  • Chief Colleen Walz of St. Johns Fire Department (STJFD) spoke at some length about the extra, sometimes potentially dangerous, work that STJFD had to undertake because of people who refused to evacuate. STJFD’s Emergency Plan assignments included driving the streets of Seabrook to broadcast the evacuation message and personally encourage residents to leave, and then to enter the island as soon as possible following the disaster to assess damage and begin clearing trees from roadways. Extra work that had to be undertaken by STJFD included making calls following Matthew’s landfall to all non-evacuees for whom they had contact information (some of that info coming from concerned relatives who called STJFD directly with concerns about specific SI residents), breaking from island assessment and initial road-clearing efforts to search abandoned cars that had been trapped by downed trees, and dealing with many questions from the non-evacuees they encountered during early work on the island.
  • SIPOA received high praise for their quick work in removing major debris from the roads and their ongoing efforts to remove debris piles from all around the SIPOA attributed much of the success to having made arrangements prior to the storm for tree contractors to begin work on the island first thing on Sunday morning.
  • DRC members expressed concern that a number of residents had not heeded information provided in advance of the event. From calls received by DRC members during evacuation, it was clear that many Seabrookers had not followed pre-evacuation checklist items such as turning off electricity/power/gas before leaving the island and were not using the Town’s website and SIPOA’s e-blasts as information sources during evacuation.

The meeting concluded with DRC members all intending to review and adjust their organizations’ Emergency Plan activities.

The next Town-sponsored Disaster Recovery Exercise will be held in January 2017.

-Submitted by Tidelines Staff


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