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Hilton Head Island Update

June 2017Mayor David Bennett as seen in Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

Here we are again. It's June, and the Atlantic hurricane season is upon us. Perhaps that grabs your attention more than ever, just as it does mine. Hurricane Matthew's catastrophic sweep through our town last year created a lasting impact. Our town manager, Steve Riley, and Tom Dunn, our emergency management coordinator, have delivered pertinent information for me to share with you at the onset of this unpredictable season.

First, your town takes critical steps periodically throughout every year to prepare for potential storms. Emergency Operation Center and evacuation procedures are reviewed and exercised annually. This occurred early in 2016, and then, of course, we fully utilized the plan when Hurricane Matthew hit us in October. That same review and evacuation exercise is planned for October this year. A meeting and training session with our Emergency Operations Center and other critical staff also takes place annually. This allows us to review the current plans and provide new and necessary information to everyone. Critical partners, including the utility companies, medical facilities, POA security forces and others, are engaged to consider the plan and incorporate new and valuable information. With each step, we are better equipped to respond.

Other crucial steps are continual, such as practicing hurricane protection installation procedures on vital facilities like fire stations. And inventorying essential supplies enables us to make sure that the Emergency Operations Center is fully prepared at all times.

Next, the work done in advance and in response to the devastation of Hurricane Matthew demonstrated just how well Hilton Head Island prepares for the Atlantic hurricane season. No major changes are currently contemplated, though reviews and evaluations occur after every event or exercise. Hurricane Matthew did reveal opportunities to improve processes, such as better collection and sharing of information on social media and other interfaces. Clearly, identifying work that the evacuated staff can accomplish remotely before, during and after a storm will be of great benefit to the community too.

Finally, citizens should likewise prepare for the season now, and the town has resources available to assist. The "Citizen's Guide to Emergency Preparedness" is available in English and Spanish and can be used to help develop a personal preparedness plan. Find it on the hurricane page of our town website at hiltonheadislandsc.gov/publicsafety/hurricane. Other resources available there include a link to the South Carolina Hurricane Guide and FEMA. If you evacuated last October, review how it went and determine what improvements could be made. Or, use our preparedness guide to strengthen your plan or build a new one. Be ready the next time an evacuation is suggested or required.

Some debate the necessity of evacuation. Please remember that your life and the emotional and physical well-being of your family members and friends are of the utmost value. Likewise of paramount importance are the lives and well-being of our first responders and their family members and friends. Lives are irreplaceable. If and when the governor issues an evacuation order, you should readily comply. Staying behind is a great risk, not just for you, but also for others. And resources necessary for the re-entry and recovery efforts being made on behalf of all Hilton Head Islanders must be diverted to those who did not evacuate. So, here we go again. Prepare, knowing that your town is preparing too.