Bottom line in hurricane preparedness: Just go

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Emergency Operations Center at Bluffton Police Headquarters on Oct. 8, 2016, after Matthew hit. PHOTO COURTESY TOWN OF BLUFFTON

We all know what Category 2 Matthew did last October, and we all have more than one hurricane story to tell. Fortunately, we're alive to tell them. We were lucky this time.

The fact that no one died is miraculous, and much of the credit has to go to the advance planning and communication by local governments and the safe, common sense evacuation by thousands of Lowcountry residents.

Unlike most natural disasters that give us virtually no warning that they're going to dump inches and inches of rain upon us like an angry Thor, or shape themselves into wind cones and thrash communities like a spinning top, or shake and open the earth like a bad B-category movie, hurricanes do give us time to get ready.

"The only one we know is coming is a hurricane," said Lt. Col. Neil Baxley, Beaufort County Emerg-ency Management Division Director. "We don't know when a tornado is coming; we may have a few minutes warning. We don't have any warnings of an earthquake.

"It is best to make your preparations now and think all hazards, not just hurricanes," he said. "So many people get tunnel vision on hurricanes, but we face other numbers of hazards now."

Everyone in authority in emergency preparedness says "Be prepared. Plan now for the worst-case scenario. Don't wait until the governor declares a mandatory evacuation for the impending hurricane." Fortunately, the majority of Lowcountry residents did evacuate; but too many did not.

"People look at storm Categories 1-5 too much," said Lt. Joe Babkiewicz, Bluffton Emergency Management Coordinator. "If they see it's a Category 2, they think 'I can just sit tight.' But what they don't realize is the other dangers that come with a hurricane, such as flooding, storm surges and tornadoes.

"The most dangerous storms are Category 3 or less that have caused the most damage and deaths, unfortunately," he said. "People see that and think, 'If it's not a Category 5, I can ride this one out.'"

Wrong.

"People were paying a whole lot more attention to Joe Bob on Facebook than they were to us, and Joe Bob was telling them what they wanted to hear," Baxley said. "So as a result there was confusion in the general public's eye."

"(Some people were thinking) 'It was a pain in the rear to evacuate, and I'm not going to do it next time,' " said Steve Riley, Hilton Head Island Town Manager. "That's the wrong lesson to take from this. This wasn't so bad, nobody died. I'm afraid we do take the wrong lessons too often."

Misinformation was rampant before and during Matthew from all sides and sources.

"The social media monster had to be fed," Baxley said. "We found out afterwards there were 144 documented official, if you would, or semiofficial or quasi-official sources of information for Hurricane Matthew. Most of those were not truly official. Most of those were people just putting out their own updates or whatever."

Residents are urged to rely on local, county and state government web sites, local TV stations that provide current updates on local weather, the National Weather Center and the Weather Channel for the most reliable information. Just make sure the information sources are credible.

"The way I look at it is, you need to prepare (to evacuate) the way you live," said Tom Dunn, Hilton Head Emergency Management Coordinator. "So, if you're somebody who has special needs, you need to prepare based on those needs. You need to prepare based on how you live your life."

Stock up on supplies for an expected five-day exodus. Also pack your car with paperwork in your file cabinets and lock box - insurance policies, photos of your home, wills, identification, cash, personal mementoes, pet supplies, prescription medications, contacts for friends, a full tank of gas, batteries, a radio, a cell phone charger, etc.

"They should heed the order to evacuate," Dunn said. "Once that order is given, take it seriously. It's not a decision that's done lightly. Just go. On the flip side, they need to be prepared to do that prior to the governor making that decision. So they need to be ready now."

"When the governor says go, go!" Riley said.

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