The next hurricane recovery won't be your Hurricane Hugo scramble, officials say. It will be a streamlined, high-tech operation with government agencies, businesses, aid groups and volunteers working as a team.
At least it's planned that way. As in any disaster, the devil is in the details.
Today is the official opening of the 2011 hurricane season, the time of year when conditions are ripe in the Atlantic Basin for tropical storms to form. The season runs through Nov. 30.
In Charleston, the most worrisome days tend to run from August through September, when storms off West Africa strengthen as they cross the Atlantic and tend to curl toward the Southeast Coast.
Inside today's Post and Courier is a guide on preparing for the threat of the storms -- all you need to know from preparation to evacuation.
Forecasters expect the 2011 hurricane season to be a bad one, nearly as many storms as occurred in 2010, the third-worst year on record. Ironically, none of those storms made landfall in the United States. But forecasters who predict the possibility of a Southeast Coast landfall say this year it's 70 percent to 80 percent.
The bottom line is, gear up and get ready. The information and computer links you need are in the guide and online at www.postandcourier.com/hurricane.
Recovery is a big "what-if" in hurricane planning because the needs will depend on the scope of damage from a storm. In a time of limited government funds to handle a disaster, private partnerships have become a key component of the Federal Emergency Management Agency protocol that guides state efforts.
"There are money challenges," Jon Boettcher, S.C. Emergency Management Division planning chief, conceded frankly. "We will move heaven and earth" to bring in disaster assistance from the private partners, other states and the federal government if needed, he said. But people have a responsibility in their own recovery. "You may be on your own for hours or days, and you should not depend on public agencies for primary needs."
The biggest new thing in the state plan is an expansion of existing partnerships with non-government agencies. Already this year, SCEMD staff have met with business leaders and others to hammer down the details, and the plan is detailed down to the contingency of setting up portable ATM machines to give people access to their money if the power grid is down.
Among other nuances, the plan sets up debris task forces that include electric utility workers, so if a road has to be cleared of trees and there's a power line in the middle of the tangle, it can be taken care of then and there rather than wait for a crew to arrive. Businesses will help coordinate the availability of equipment and supplies.
Volunteers will be encouraged to register with SCEMD so they can be put where they are needed.
One of the problems that can overwhelm disaster-recovery efforts is the truckloads of goods donated by people from other places without any real coordination of what's needed.
The piles end up stacked in warehouses so high nobody can really say what they are, let alone use them. In one infamous example, a truckload of winter coats arrived in the Lowcountry in the swelter after Hurricane Hugo.
SCEMD has a contingency to bring the Seventh Day Adventist relief agency to handle any overload of donations, Boettcher said. The agency has developed a reputation as "absolute pros" managing disaster donations.
The biggest advance in hurricane planning will be social media.
As long as there's power or cell towers, you'll be able to get updated information on a disastrous storm and help recovering at The Post and Courier's website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Federal agencies, SCEMD and most local governments also have social media sites. The state agency even has a YouTube page.
With social media, "we've opened our doors and gotten more people interested in disaster preparation than ever before," said Derrec Becker, SCEMD public information officer.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744.