Disaster Awareness Day was held on June 15 at the Island House. It was hosted by the Towns of Kiawah Island (TOKI) and Seabrook Island (TOSI) and was well attended by homeowners and residents of both islands. Here are some of the most salient points from the all-day event if you weren’t able to attend:
The Mayors of both towns began with reflections on Hurricane Matthew.
Craig Weaver, Mayor of TOKI, acknowledged that most people do not have much experience with hurricanes and since the last big one (Hugo in 1989), the community has increased in size, there are more houses and roadways on the island and many more tourists to plan for. He also noted that we were extremely lucky that Hurricane Matthew hit at low tide and we were not hurt badly. The cost for the Kiawah clean up was a bit over $1m, while Hilton Head was hit at high tide, was badly damaged and the clean up cost was $80m.
Mayor Weaver went on to discuss issues raised and lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew:
- Communicating was a huge challenge. Creating relevant, accurate, factual communication for a diverse, scattered population was difficult. With information that was being sent via social media, TOKI found that speed trumped accuracy in communication.
- Resource limitations were a challenge.
- How do we secure the island during the storm and afterwards, and how to do it for an extended period of time if residents couldn’t get back on the island quickly?
- Clean up – they had contracts in place for the clean up, but there is a conflict between what community needs to do to qualify for FEMA reimbursement and needs of home owners and businesses to get back on the island and start their own clean up.
Ron Ciancio, Mayor of TOSI explained that TOSI learned how limited our resources were when staff/Council members were not available for their assigned duties in the event of a disaster. The situation moved so quickly from normal operations to OpCon 5 that there wasn’t sufficient time to complete the necessary procedures at each OpCon level. TOSI learned that law enforcement have some discretion in directing evacuees and did allow them to go to places other than along the evacuation route, due to the low traffic volume as a result of the early evacuation call.
Other observations noted by Mayor Ciancio included the following:
- The TOSI thought that checkpoints would be established to prevent residents from returning but that only applies if the road to the next checkpoint is clear.
- The TOSI learned that the Sheriffs Department will not post an officer at the Seabrook Island gate, but they did patrol our community until they were told to retreat to their shelters.
- It was hard to get accurate information on conditions on the ground, how bad the damage was and when they could expect to return.
- Mayor Ciancio agreed that there needs to have better communication between TOSI, the Club and SIPOA and information needs to be shared on a real time basis. They need to have effective communications plans with Charleston County and are getting training on that. They learned that they need to communicate better with evacuated residents. During Hurricane Matthew TOSI used the SIPOA e-blast and Tidelines, and they are now are able to e-mail residents directly. He also said they would make more effective use of the Code RED Twitter feed, their 888 Emergency number, and the TOSI website to get information out to the Seabrook Island population.
Hurricane Tracking – Carl Barnes of the National Weather Service (NWS), Charleston Office.
Mr. Barnes said that the science of hurricane tracking is about the track and the hurricane’s strength. There are several different models for track forecasting. When the storm is several days out, there is more spread in the models. There are methods to gather real-time observations, which help with tracking accuracy.
With strength or intensity forecasting there are fewer real time observations so it’s harder to predict. Vertical change in winds (wind shear), amount of moisture, and warm water temperatures all impact storm intensity, and good tracking forecasting is required for good intensity forecasting.
The NWS information is reviewed by National Hurricane Center (NHC). The NHC develops the tracking path of the storm that we see on the TV and they predict where it will come ashore, its intensity, and the impacts of the storm. NHC forecast is then tailored to our local area, which covers from Charleston to Savannah. All of this information is provided to those who make the decision on whether to call for an evacuation or not.
Hurricane Matthew was well forecasted, but the track gave some problems. Meteorologists knew 24 hours before it hit what the track would be. The storm was further off coast than thought initially, but then it turned slightly and hugged the coast. Intensity was well forecasted, and the hurricane intensified in the Caribbean. It made landfall near McClellanville. It was the first storm to make landfall in SC since 1951 (Hurricane Hazel). Due to the heavy rains there was more fresh water flooding than salt water flooding.
There are a number of models that are used for hurricane forecasting: European, British and American. The European and British models beat the American model in forecasting, mostly due to better computers that are able to make more accurate calculations.
One comment about Hilton Head and Hurricane Matthew. There were tornadoes within the hurricane eye wall that affected Hilton Head and places south, causing much more damage than the Charleston area received.
Disaster Preparedness and State Procedures – Derrec Becker, SC/Emergency Management Division (SC/EMD)
- Our State Emergency Management Division has gone from being almost non-existent during Hurricane Charlie in 2004 to one of the largest State EMDs within the US.
- Disaster response requires communication. You have to continually work to improve communications plans today to be prepared for tomorrow.
- Disaster preparedness and disaster response begins at home.
- Matthew was nothing compared to Hugo. Hurricane Hugo was in 1989 and SC recovered from it in 2006.
- Disaster plans need to be continually updated and revised.
- The biggest problem is once the decision is made to call for a mandatory evacuation, how does SC/EMD get people to leave? Personal safety if paramount and the best advice is to leave.
Evacuation Procedures/Post Evacuation Security – Panel Discussion
- Lessons learned –The Sheriff’s Office was well prepared for Hurricane Matthew and in SC there is good coordination between the various agencies and law enforcement. People left early in the evacuation. They learned that deputies have to be posted at some intersections and not at others. They found that people in this area are well prepared to evacuate and that most information on social media was correct and provided insight into current conditions.
- Traffic Control Point Enforcement – They need to distribute traffic along the assigned route, which may require redirecting people to other routes or letting people go where they want if traffic volume is low, as was the case with Matthew. However, with less warning they could be assisting 1.5 million people move out of the path of the storm. Also, the three fastest growing communities on the East Coast are in South Carolina – Hilton Head/Charleston/Myrtle Beach, which impacts the traffic volume on SC roadways.
- Security – During emergency operations additional personnel were assigned to Patrol Division. They set up officers to monitor the Freshfields traffic circle to see who’s coming onto both islands and make sure the person(s) had valid reasons to come onto the islands. The Citizens Communications Info Hotline Emergency # 843-746-3900 can provide up to date information on the status of the Island and recovery/security.
Fire Department/Emergency Medical Services (FD/EMS)
- When the evacuation order is issued, LEAVE. If you choose to stay during an evacuation you may not receive help when you need it and you may be putting others in danger in their efforts to help you. Before the storm, Fire Department personnel are securing their stations and equipment. For residents with mobility or medical issues requiring special assistance, the FD/EMS can help before the storm, however, operations are ceased when winds get up to 40-50 mph because of the need to relocate vehicles/personnel out of potential danger. At that point, no one will respond to calls. Calls to 911 are prioritized and when operations are resumed, medical calls will be responded to first.
- Charleston County runs a transportation program for those who need help evacuating. They use school buses to pick up people at Freshfields (Sheriffs office) and take them to a Red Cross shelter. Other locations can be found on their website. The shelter is a lifeboat, not a cruise ship, so you’ll want to do it as a last resort. Nothing will be provided other than a roof over your head, so bring bedding/food and other necessities. Those with special medical needs should call the Charleston County Emergency Management Division information number for a special ambulance or to go to a place other than a Red Cross shelter.
- There was concern that Hurricane Matthew may have lulled people into a false sense of security. Many people stayed on Seabrook Island and might choose to stay in the future. We were advised to take these storms and evacuation orders seriously and evacuate early. If you wait for an evacuation order you will not be allowed to go where you want to go. In the case of Hurricane Matthew, South Carolina called the evacuation early and SC residents got all the hotel rooms, beating out FL, GA and NC evacuees.
Utilities Disaster Procedures – Panel Discussion
Power – Berkeley Electric Cooperative (BEC) – How was the decision made to cut power? Predicted storm surge is the primary factor in deciding whether to cut power to protect equipment. Damage to equipment delays recovery. Why did it take so long to bring power back online? Our power is only as good as the transmission from the Santee-Cooper Power Station, which lost power during Matthew. Once they lose power they first have to check substation-to-substation and all the feeders along the route before bringing up the power and BEC had to wait for Santee-Cooper to re-energize first.
- Power – If you are leaving during or prior to an evacuation, turn off the main breaker switch in your house. You might not be home when power goes back on. The surge of power when it comes back on can do damage to your house and appliances, so you’re protected if the main power is off.
- Water – Locate your shut off valve and, if you don’t have one, install an isolation valve to turn off water isolating the water to your house from the main water line. Trees that fall can uproot water lines. During Matthew, Seabrook Island Utilities Commission did not have to turn off water, but it can happen. On Kiawah, sewer was a bigger problem during the early days of recovery when they needed people to minimize discharge into sewer pipes because pumps weren’t operational due to no power. SIUC communicates info through TOSI. If SIUC cuts off the water system and psi drops, they will give a ‘boil water notice’. Before a hurricane, they top off the tanks. Pay attention to TOSI alerts regarding whether or not to boil water. They recommended storing potable water in your house before you evacuate.
- Propane tank safety – No one represented Berkeley Propane, but it was recommended that residents turn off the propane at the tank when they evacuate.
- Generators – For the smaller, mobile generators, don’t plug it into an outlet in your house or hook it up to your main power box. If your generator is the larger one with the automatic transfer switch, you’ll want to get guidance from the propane or gas company on what to do.
Local Entities Procedures – Panel Discussion
- John Wilcox, SIC, Director of Maintenance – They had a few issues due to BEC cutting power early. They had to evacuate 40 horses.
- Heather Paton, SIPOA, Executive Director – Steve Hirsch and the maintenance team contracted with 5 companies before the storm and got a jump on clean up efforts because plans were in place. The SIPOA had a list of 25 residents who remained, but there were many more. Some residents gave the contractors clearing the roads a hard time. The SIPOA office received calls asking when the POA would turn on electricity, etc…things that were not their responsibility. In the next disaster event, SIPOA will provide updates at regular intervals even if there is nothing new to report.
- Chris Widuch, TOKI Public Safety Committee – They should not have let anyone back on the islands until power was restored, especially not knowing when it would come back on.
- Rusty Lameo, TOKI – He asked that residents let TOKI know if you need help evacuating. Contractors were still working to clear the roads after the Island was opened. They will do an inspection and let you know if there is a problem with your house. Don’t be in a rush to return.
- John Gregg , TOSI Public Safety Committee – The time from normal operations to OPCon 1 (the highest level) happened in the span of 24 hrs. The TOSI Council members and TOSI administrator all have roles in an evacuation and they were down 2 people and felt the lack of resources. TOSI and CERT did the initial damage assessment.
- John Reynolds, Seabrook Island CERT – CERT needs to do better with upfront planning. They left the trailer on the island and should have taken it with them because all the equipment was in it – generators, saws, medical supplies, etc.
There was a high demand for contractors and insurance reps to get on the island following the storm. The first priority is tree removal, then throwing on the blue tarp to cover damaged sections of the house so the insurance company reps can see what’s happened. The TOSI needs to verify that contractors are working for residents. They are considering allowing limited access to do the initial inspection but not to occupy residences which may be unsafe. There is a protocol for re-entry that requires registration of the contractors and verification that they are working for a resident.
After Disaster – Individual Assistance
Elisabeth Roberts, SC/EMD – These instructions are on the SC/EMD website.
(1) First go to your homeowners insurance and get a letter of determination. The Small Business Administration (SBA) can give assistance for damage to primary residences and businesses, up to $200k in a low interest loans. The maximum benefit from FEMA is $33,300. It is not intended to make you whole, but to make your home safe, secure and sanitary. FEMA can also provide housing assistance and medical assistance. Keep in mind that there is a 60-day window to apply to FEMA. SC/EMD includes this on their website when a disaster has happened.
(2) Register for assistance with FEMA, you can always withdraw later.
(3) FEMA will make an appointment for an inspection of your home and your information is reviewed for an eligibility determination. This can be pretty fast. If the letter says you are denied, it may mean you can’t get assistance right now, but that they may need more documentation or FEMA could refer you to SBA for assistance. If SBA can’t help, SBA MAY refer you back to FEMA. You need to stay on top of the status of your application and the options you have.
Flood Map Changes – Cindy Cahill, Charleston County Floodplain Management Coordinator
FEMA has developed new flood insurance rate maps. Charleston County is reviewing the maps and will report errors to FEMA. The new maps include better data, and changes in benchmark elevations.