The Towns of Kiawah and Seabrook Islands host an annual event, Disaster Awareness Day, to help residents be mindful and prepared for the various problems that beset our islands – – hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, etc. This year it was held at the Seabrook Island Club on June 14, 2019. Representatives from our first responders, local agencies and the municipalities of Seabrook and Kiawah Islands were on-hand to discuss three major topics: things that happen before the storm hits; communication is key; and flooding, king tides, and earthquakes.
Things that happen before the storm hits.
The St. Johns Fire Department (SJFD) positions its equipment in locations where it will be protected from the storm and flooding. Once the winds reach 40-45 mph, SJFD personnel evacuate and the bridges are closed to traffic. At that point, residents are on their own and SJFD is not available to help. If a resident needs assistance in getting out of their home to evacuate, they need to contact the SJFD well before the storm winds reach 40-45 mph and the SJFD has evacuated. They stressed that residents should leave early in a mandatory evacuation.
Sheriff Office personnel (SO) will be visible as the storm approaches. Once the mandatory evacuation order is given, they will be present at each intersection directing traffic along the evacuation route. They recommend that residents leave before the evacuation order is given so they can go where they want and also because the roads will have less traffic, both from our area and neighboring states. Once residents are evacuated, the SO evacuates with some SO personnel sheltering with the SJFD. If residents decide to ignore the mandatory evacuation order, they should shelter in place, seek higher ground away from windows, and keep radio/flashlights/supplies close at hand. Before the storm hits and power/phone/Internet are down, notify a friend/family member and ask them to let the SO know you’re there so they check on you as soon as possible.
Once the storm has passed, SJFD responds to medical emergencies and damage (downed trees and wires). The SO puts up a roadblock at the traffic circle to keep the islands secure until the order has been given that it is safe to return.
The primary focus of the Town of Seabrook Island is to get people to heed the evacuation order. They recommend that residents prepare ahead of time and pointed out that all kinds of materials are available to help residents be prepared for the hurricane season. They also advised that residents should not make plans based on the category of the storm because that is based solely on wind speed and doesn’t take into account storm surge, rainfall, and flooding. Also, when you evacuate, plan your destination for far outside the predicted cone of impact.
Berkeley Electric Cooperative (BEC) reported that the wind direction and storm tides are critical for keeping their equipment operational. Seawater will cause damage to their electrical equipment, so BEC has installed new sealed or hardened equipment where possible, raised the platforms the equipment stands on and changed the type of equipment to models that will re-energize more quickly. We all remember that their equipment was vulnerable in Matthew and Irma. It was knocked out causing catastrophic failure and lengthy repair/restoration time. BEC advised that it is preferable to take the equipment down to protect it and shorten restoration time. BEC advised that we can use their SmartHub app to learn whether you have power at your home and monitor whether you ever lost power. If a tree strikes your home, you should turn off the electricity. If your home has been de-energized and you don’t know why, you should get an electrician in to find out before trying to turn the power back on.
It was also recommended that residents evacuate with a hardcopy of the architectural plans for your home, which may help you get a jump on repair/ restoration.
Communication is Key: Public Information before, during and after a disaster.
SC Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) consolidates all the weather information for the State. They recommend monitoring the National Weather Service storm reporting – – not the weather channel, etc. SCEMD draws information from the State Climatology office as well as counties, towns, schools, etc., to put out one collective news release to the public. Their focus is on what residents should do and getting that information out to the public as quickly as possible.
Charleston County EMD gets information from the State. They reiterate the Governor’s press release, focused on Charleston County specific information, obtain re-entry information from each municipality and feed it back to the Governor’s office before a ‘return’ order is given. The return order is given only after the roads are cleared and sewer, water, and power are back on.
The Towns of Kiawah and Seabrook Islands participate in daily calls with the Tri-county representatives to obtain and pass on information on the ground situation. Officials of both Islands put out press releases to provide accurate, up to date information. SIPOA also reports on the passability of our roads. They recommend that you rely on your local government, not Nextdoor, to obtain accurate (not anecdotal) information The Town of Seabrook Island releases information through:
- 888-314-3177, a toll-free public info message
- The Code Red system (enter your cell phone number)
- Email to push info to residents and reiterated in the SIPOA e-blast
The Town does not have the ability to maintain cell phone or Internet service in our area during a weather emergency, so residents are cautioned to have a radio and extra batteries to monitor the situation.
Flooding, King Tides and Earthquakes
New flood maps will be coming out in 2020. The frequency of flooding and the number of storms is increasing. Culverts need to be maintained and drains need to be cleared of debris. Carry flood insurance because homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding. Use flood vents to allow water flow through your basement level. Raise your HVAC units. Do not store things or turn your basement into a living space. If you face flooding on the road, turn around, don’t drown! The roadbed may have collapsed and it may be much deeper than you think! Tides change twice a day and depend on the placement of the sun and moon. King Tide plus storms result in higher tides, flooding, and seawater spilling onto roads.
Seabrook and Kiawah Islands are vulnerable to earthquakes. During an earthquake, shelter under a table or desk. Bricks and debris may be falling and hit you as you exit a building. Stay put until the shaking stops, then go outdoors. To be prepared for an earthquake, tie things down (tv’s, lamps,etc.). Brick and cinderblock buildings experience the most damage; they can twist and shift off their pylons. There is also danger of liquefaction of ground which will cause damage to buildings, roads, and bridges.
Be prepared; stay safe.