Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on

The City of Charleston’s director of emergency management has some experience with hurricanes. From dangling from steel cables as a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer  to plucking people from the rooftops of hurricane-flooded houses to four years on city staff encouraging folks to evacuate before looming storms, Shannon Scaff has seen it all. 

With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting above-normal Atlantic hurricane activity, Scaff is worried that the close calls and near-misses of previous seasons has lessened Lowcountry residents’ respect for the potential impact of a hurricane. This year, NOAA has projected a 70% probability of 14 to 21 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes.

“With every season that comes by — we’ve had Florence, Michael, Dorian — that passes through and doesn’t affect us much, we get a little more complacent,” Scaff said. “When I meet people on their turf to talk about emergency management, I ask them about their threshold for evacuation. Frequently they say, if they evacuate at all, it’s based on the category of storm. Some say they won’t evacuate at all. As you can imagine, that’s problematic for me.

“There’s this false sense of security,” he added.

That complacency, he said, will get people into trouble. Charleston hasn’t felt a massive-impact storm since Hugo in 1989, but the memories of the storm are still fresh to those who lived through it.

“Charleston was basically a third-world country for weeks if not months after that,” Scaff said. “We get a direct impact from a Category 3 or higher hurricane, life as we know it here isn’t going to be so comfortable.” 

That’s why, he said, it’s so important to have a plan. Every household, he said, should have its own emergency management director — maybe it’s you. 

“You have to do for your home what I have to do for the city — plan,” he said. “Know where you’re going to go. Have important documents ready to go. Provide for your family in a way that can sustain you long-term if you have delays getting back.”

It’s vital, he added to respect the danger not only from wind, but water. “If a storm falls in line with high tide, we’re in real trouble,” he said. “There will come a time when nobody is going to be able to come in and get you out.”

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