Hurricane Season officially kicks off June 1st and while Mother Nature has spared us in the past, Emergency Management Officials in Beaufort County are preparing for the worst.
Beaufort County is growing by leaps and bounds, with new homes popping up all over and all of these additional people relocating to our area means it will take longer to get out in the case of a hurricane. In fact, Emergency officials expect it will now take 30 hours to evacuate the county this year, that's five more hours more than last year's estimate.
"What a 30 hour clearance time means is the amount of time it takes for emergency services to get everyone that lives in the county to a point far enough inland where they're safe from the water and the wind," said the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office's, Col Neil Baxley.
To help speed up the process and get people out of town and to the mainland as soon as possible, county officials are making some changes."
One of the biggest changes will happen for those living in Sun City.
"We're going to take them out the back gate at Dell Webb, turn them left there, send them up Highway 170 and 462 and to exit 28 at Coosawhatchie," said Col Baxley.
Other changes are in store for those living in the Bluffton area.
"We're taking all of that greater Bluffton area traffic in the Buckwalter area, they'll all go out 46 they will not be able to go out 278 because we're leaving 278 open to evacuate Hilton Head Island and those developments North of 278 such as Colleton River and Berkely Hall, said Col. Baxley.
The other big change will happen for those evacuating out highway 21. At the Gardens Corner intersection - traffic will split - with half going South and the other half going North.
But the biggest change they're implementing is something emergency officials are calling variable routing.
"Our big plan is to be flexible, if we see a route clearing quicker we're going to move traffic from another route to that route so conceivably folks leaving the sea Islands on St. Helena, Lady's Island could find themselves routed across the Broad River, which has never been in the plans before and out Hwy 462 if we see that's a faster route because our goal is to get them out of the low country," said Col Baxley.
Emergency officials are urging everyone to get out early.
"If you want for the mandatory, you're going our way, in the direction we want you to travel on the roads we want you to use, so early is the name of the game," said Emergency Management Division Director, William Winn.
As if all the growth wasn't enough damage to the McTeer Bridge has forced them to examine they're plans, but they say it won't hold up evacuation traffic.
"It's not an issue as long as we have one lane to use on the McTeer bridge, that's all we're every had planned is one lane," said Col Baxley.
While all of this traffic has been a headache, William Winn says it's actually helped them better prepare for this year's Hurricane Season.
"One of the things its done is to take the techniques we'd have to use in an evacuation, analyze traffic, seeing what the ripple effects are and make a decision and being able to respond to it," said Winn.
Winn says the county's 42 traffic cameras and new technology are key.
" from a command and control perspective, we have a lot more coordination and capability than ever before with cameras we have a lot more intelligence to tell us what's going on the Highways.
But Winn warns, it's the evacuation and recovery plan preparation you do that will make the biggest difference.