South Carolina and Florida dominated the list, with Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida taking the top two spots. Charleston and Horry counties took the next two, and Miami-Dade County in Florida brought up the back of the top five. Beaufort, Berkeley and Dorchester counties ranked sixth, seventh and ninth, respectively. Honolulu County in Hawaii is the only Pacific county in the ranking and registered the most hurricane activity, though it only ranked 52nd overall.
Ben Webster, Charleston County’s emergency management deputy director, said the county’s high ranking may be due to Charleston’s reputation.
“Charleston is a phenomenal place to live,” he said. “People come year after year to visit our great county, and that gives us a lot of pressure. The eye is on us, and a large-scale hurricane would have major repercussions.”
Charleston County ranked ninth in the study’s hurricane risk score, which was determined using several metrics by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and weighed alongside data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Charleston County ranked second in hurricane history, which counts the number of major hurricanes in the last 10 years organized by category. Near misses are also factored in, and while Charleston does not often take the brunt of a hurricane’s landfall, it is often in its crosshairs. The potential threat is enough to place Charleston above hundreds of other counties along the Atlantic Coast.
Finally, Charleston County ranked eighth in financial impact, becoming the only county in South Carolina to crack the top 10 in that metric.
No such thing as a simple ‘season’
Webster says while it would be nice to chalk storm preparation to a single stretch of time every year, that simply isn’t the case.
“Hurricane season isn’t just a season for Charleston County,” he said. “It’s a year-round thing. We constantly review our plans and do training exercises just to ensure that we can respond adequately in the event of severe weather.”
And even though experts have predicted a fairly normal hurricane season, Webster says that activity is one of the least valuable metrics to keep in mind.
“I wish we could say ‘regular year’ and forecast it out ahead of time, but it only takes one hurricane to affect Charleston County,” he said. “It only takes one storm … it just takes one to to cause extraordinary damage and necessitate an extraordinary recovery effort.”
Webster says that’s why it’s important for the county to have a plan in place. It starts with damage assessment.
“How bad is it? Are our bridges intact? How do the homes look? There are different options moving forward depending on the answers,” he said. “We want to get people back to a sense of normalcy as quickly as we can and in a safe manner.”
Have an individual plan in place
While it’s important for community leaders to have a disaster plan, it’s just as important for residents to have one, too.
“The first thing I would encourage people to do is go to hurricane.sc and pick up a hurricane safety guide,” Webster said. “Have a disaster kit, food and water for you, your family and pets, and have a plan for where you’re going to go. It’s a long, but simple list of things people should keep in mind.”
Heeding evacuation orders can prevent the need for recovery efforts and the use of emergency plans in the first place, he added. The state’s hurricane guide includes up-to-date evacuation zones and routes, an important addition considering how many people move into Charleston County, and how often, Webster said.
General Charleston County hurricane guides and planning tips for those with disabilities and other special needs are available at charlestoncounty.org. Charleston City Paper also published an up-to-date preparation guide in May this year which includes links to important state and county information. Some printed copies are still available.
Webster reminded residents emergency officials may have trouble getting to residents immediately following a major storm.
“Those first 72 hours after a disaster are really on you.”
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