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Hurricane Season Frequently Asked Questions

The Town recently conducted an online forum to gather questions the public may have regarding hurricane season preparation, Town's response, public evacuations, or in the event of a storm, recovery. The following is a list of questions that were posted and their answers.

Does the Island ever have a mandatory evacuation even if the state or county does not and if so, how would we find out about this?
In South Carolina, the Governor is the only person that can order a mandatory evacuation. It is possible that the Island and other low-lying areas along the coast could be evacuated without the rest of county or state. Such an order would only come from the Governor. Notices of mandatory evacuation generally would be announced at news conferences and through area media, including the state and Town's social media.
Who calls the evacuation?
In South Carolina the Governor is the only one who can call for a mandatory evacuation.
If leaving due to a Mandatory evacuation, are you allowed to go to a friend or hotel via a non- evacuation route? (I know that you could leave prior to a mandatory but why would you unnecessarily?)
If you leave before a mandatory evacuation, you may travel in any direction you wish. After the evacuation order is issued, routes of travel will depend on where traffic control points are put into place. Once the control points are in place, traffic will have a pre-determined flow. By leaving early, you may avoid potentially heavier traffic that may result from a mandatory evacuation.
Who do we contact to know when we can return to the island?
You have several options to get information on when you can return to the Island. Re-entry information will be posted on the Town's website and distributed through the Town's Facebook page and Twitter feed. You may also call 1-800 -963-5023 for updates.
At what point do the hospitals evacuate?
Hospitals and other medical facilities are required to evacuate when the Governor orders a mandatory medical evacuation. This will normally happen prior to a mandatory public evacuation.
Do you call for mandatory evacuation with hurricanes category 1 and 2?
Evacuations are not determined by the category of storm. The Governor uses all available resources including the National Hurricane Center, the National Weather Service and local governments to determine the possible storm impacts to South Carolina. The potential impacts of a storm are what drive the decision to order an evacuation.
Last year the Island was evacuated because of a call made by the State & surrounding regions. Then the evacuation was lifted, but not before people left, cancellations were made, revenue lost and refunded. What are you doing to ensure that an evacuation is not ordered prematurely again?
There was some confusion about the evacuation orders that were made last year during Hurricane Florence. The Governor ordered an evacuation of the medical facilities within Beaufort County. He announced that he would sign an evacuation order the following day for the public. However, he did not do so due to the fact that the storm's path had changed substantially overnight. The Governor has to make a decision based on the best information available at the time. Fortunately, Hurricane Florence did not impact Beaufort County. But the storm did demonstrate how complicated it is to forecast hurricanes and the challenging decisions the Governor has to make.
How much advance warning will the Town give for voluntary evacuation and what media will be used?
There is no longer a voluntary evacuation notice in South Carolina. If an evacuation is ordered, it will be mandatory. Whenever a storm threatens our area, the Town will use all available communications and media to alert and inform the public.
What are the latest guidelines for exit and return before and after a hurricane?
We recommend you follow the Town on social media, our E-subscription service and website for information related to evacuations. If you have the ability to leave early, that is always your best option. For returning to the Island, please be patient. Public safety crews, utilities, and Town contractors will be working hard to open roadways and restore critical services. For information on when to return follow the Town on social media or register for our E-subscription service to receive notifications. Information will be available on the Town's website or you may call 1-800-963-5023.

When you return, you will need to understand the conditions of the Island and the area in which your home is located. Power, water, sewer and other services may be limited.
Might it not be a good idea to encourage those who are free do to do to take advantage of the opportunity to leave the island early, in advance of mandatory evacuation orders?
Yes. We encourage those that have the ability to leave early to consider doing so.
When will they shut down the bridge?
The SC Department of Transportation is responsible for the bridges and has the authority to close them.  The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office may use a point prior to the bridges to manage the re-entry process.  We do not plan to control entry prior to a hurricane event, but will manage the re-entry process from at a traffic control point. 
What will be the phone number for returning to Bluffton and Hilton Head?
Information on when you can return to the Island will be available on the Town's social media pages and website. You can also call 1-800-963-5023.
I have read that if we need to evacuate we should shut off propane and water. But I have no idea how to shut off water. How do I do this?
You should shut off your propane at the tank prior to evacuating. If you have a portable tank it should be secured outside before you leave. Secure the tank so it does not damage your or your neighbors' property.

Shutting off your water is good idea and should be done at the shutoff valve in your yard if you have one. If you do not have or cannot locate your shutoff valve, please contact your Public Service District (PSD) now. Do not wait until we have an approaching tropical storm or hurricane. Your PSD can assist you in locating your water shut off.
When does the town decide to cut off the power and water to residences before the hurricane arrives? When will the town switch on the utilities again after the hurricane is gone?
The Town does not have the authority to order that power and water be cut off. Palmetto Electric Cooperative will not voluntarily cut off power to customers, and recommends leaving the power on when you evacuate.

The public service districts do not voluntarily cut off the water to their systems. If you cut off the water, remember to also shut off the water to your hot water heater and other appliances that use water.
What is the town doing to educate people on purging their hazardous materials? As well as what to do with them?
You can dispose of hazardous household materials at the Beaufort County Convenience Center, managed by the Beaufort County Public Works Department. Items to be disposed should be brought in their original packaging; the staff on site can assist you with the proper disposal. If you has specific questions related to household hazardous waste, call 843-255-2736 or visit https://www.beaufortcountysc.gov/solid-waste-and-recycle/special-collection-events.html
If your car is not working or don't have one, what is the phone number if you need a ride, where to go to get ride?
Beaufort County has developed a county-wide evacuation plan for those who need assistance evacuating. There are six strategically located pickup points around the Island for those who need help evacuating. If you are unable to get to one of the designated pickup points, you can request additional assistance through our Special Call Pickup Program. Once an evacuation has been ordered, just call the Hilton Head Fire Rescue Dispatch Center at 843-682-5125 to request evacuation assistance. The dispatcher will take your information; Fire Rescue personnel will make arrangements to pick you up and take you to the Beaufort County evacuation point at the Hilton Head Island Airport.
Some schools that were evacuation centers...were flooded last what is government doing to support the Bluffton Schools in the event of using them again?
Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Emergency Management Division works closely with the Red Cross and the Beaufort County School System to ensure sure all identified shelters meet the Red Cross standards.
As a winter visitor, what are my options? Do you have a shelter on Hilton Head Island?
There are no hurricane shelters on Hilton Head Island or Beaufort County. All Hurricane Shelters are inland. There are identified emergency shelters for non-hurricane or post-hurricane sheltering on Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County.
In the event of an island-wide mandatory evacuation, when officials are first allowed back onto the island, will a representative from the Forest Beach Association be allowed to return before the general population? Last time (Matthew) when other POA officials were allowed to return, no one from Forest Beach was allowed back because we weren't considered a PUD. We are a COMMUNITY with no gates. We deserve the same rights as those that are gated.
There is a re-entry policy that is used to determine re-entry for public safety and the return of critical services. That process for the current Hurricane Season is closed. However, the Forest Beach Association may apply for the 2020 Hurricane Season process in January of 2020. The current policy requires the community to be gated, have infrastructure is maintains and provide SLED certified security.
Are sand bags provided by town or elsewhere? At what cost? We experience coastal flooding.
At this time, the Town does not provide sand or sandbags. However, we are evaluating the possibility of providing bags and sand free of charge to residents at a self-service location on the Island.
If we have empty sandbags, are we permitted to get sand from the beach?
No. You are not permitted to use sand from our Island beaches to fill sandbags.
How does the Town plan to deploy pre-emptive drainage maintenance resources in the gated communities?
The Town has agreements with most of the larger gated communities in which roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. The Town inspects critical drainage infrastructure every year prior to hurricane season and performs maintenance as necessary. In advance of a hurricane warning, the Town will pump down drainage systems where it can, lower gates and advise POA managers to do the same with their operable control gates. This provides for greater storage of runoff from intense rainfall conditions.
Has any thought been given to how those in need of assistance might be enabled to connect more efficiently with those capable of providing it?
Yes. Several non-profit organizations have come together and work together after a major event. The United Way provides its call center as a primary point of contact for those needing assistance (843-982-3040). United Way volunteers and staff coordinate with other organizations throughout the county to provide assistance.

Also, the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry coordinates the Lowcountry Volunteer Connection. An individual not associated with a formal group can register and list the skills they are able to provide (https://www.cf-lowcountry.org/WorkingWithUs/ForVolunteers.aspx) The database is used to link volunteers with known needs.
What information can the town provide or what precautions can the town put in place to prevent unscrupulous service providers after a hurricane. After Matthew sustained significant damage. Not only was it difficult to secure a repair professional but significant gouging on prices was taking place.
Whenever a mandatory evacuation is ordered by the Governor, special price gouging laws go into effect to protect consumers from unwarranted price increases. The price-gouging law (SC 39-5-145) is a general prohibition of unconscionable prices during times of disaster and the subsequent recovery period. The South Carolina Attorney General's Office enforces these provisions. During an evacuation, the Attorney General's Office will publish contact information to report potential violators.
It would be good if such means could be addressed in the update to the town's comprehensive plan, e.g., by the Connected and Collaborative Community workgroup, on which I am serving.
Because the provisions pertaining to price gouging are administered and enforced by a State agency, it would not be appropriate to incorporate them into the Town's local ordinances. However, the Town will take proactive steps in notifying the public of these resources during and following a storm event.
Will the responses to these questions be made available on the town's website in written form for those who prefer not to take the time to watch videos?
In addition to informational videos, written answers to all of the questions submitted will available on the Town's website at hiltonheadislandsc.gov.
Thank you for offering this forum. I am a snowbird and would really appreciate quick access to data showing how my home weathered the storm - assuming communication lines & cell towers are down and I cannot get in touch with any neighbors. Does the town have the capability to collect/publish damage assessments down to the individual home address (privacy issues?). E.g., perhaps by employing a drone? Thank you!
In the immediate aftermath of a storm event, Town staff will be involved in gathering damage assessment data of all structures and properties within the Town limits that have been affected by the storm. We will be supplying this information to local, state and Federal agencies, and will make every effort to try and publish this information to the public when and where possible.
We recently bought a "second home", in St Andrew's, Palmetto Dunes. We spent the month of October 2018, there. As the hurricane came up from the Fla. Panhandle, we received tornado warnings for Beaufort Co. on my cell phone. Living very close to the fire station, I figured that should one approach, we would definitely heard the sirens. We were told a few days later that there are no emergency sirens on the island. I was very surprised at that.

We appreciate the information and alerts we have received relating to hurricanes and applaud the staff in the handling of Hurricane Matthew. My question relates to tornadoes. Nothing has been suggested as to shelters available in the event of tornadoes. Suggestion is to go to lowest level of home and interior windowless room. This doesn't really relate to villa/condo owners on 2nd or 3rd levels. Would appreciate more info about available locations on Hilton Head Island.
Beaufort County recently received a grant to install emergency sirens throughout the County including Hilton Head Island. The project is in its early stage and the County is working with all of the municipalities to install emergency sirens. The advice to go to the lowest level and interior room remains the best available in the event of a tornado warning. Sirens are designed for outdoor warnings. They are unlikely to penetrate inside of most residential structures. Consider having a NOAA Weather Radio, and downloading and using cell phone apps to receive warnings.
Is there a reverse 911 call that can go to our cell phones in the event of a hurricane evacuation or tornado? We had that in California, it was great when we had fires.
Beaufort County has a Reverse 911 system that is used for localized events. It is not used for county wide events. The County relies on the NOAA Warning Alerts (available on all smart phones), Beaufort County Emergency Management App, Nixle, Beaufort County Sheriff Office Twitter, and Facebook pages for dissemination of severe weather information and warnings. We also recommend a NOAA Weather Radio (battery operated) as the most reliable early warning device for personal use.