Beaufort County proposes fix to disaster reentry plan

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — Hurricane Matthew did major damage to Beaufort County, but after the storm was over the reentry process became a hot topic.

Residents faced hour-long waits to return home after figuring out whether or not they were permitted to come back.

Beaufort County officials now are proposing to change that plan one tier at a time.

“We then reconstructed the plan we had. We didn’t trash the plan, we enhanced it and we adjusted it,” said Lt. Col. Neil Baxley, Commander of the Beaufort County Emergency Management Division.

The adjustment was designed to keep folks off the roads and away from checkpoints until they were told to return after the storm.

“Matthew’s reentry plan worked exactly the way it was supposed to work,” said Baxley. “The way it had been practiced, but we had never done it in real life.”

He says what they didn’t anticipate was the information being shared on social media platforms.

As a result, they are proposing to streamline the process with five tiers of return — starting with the most vital resource.

“This purpose is to get life support, search and rescue, reestablishment of services, that’s all its for,” said Baxley. “We have the response mode, the emergency response mode which is your firefighters, your EMTs, your key utility folks, then we have four tiers in the plan that will bring back folks that have key roles.”

First Responders are not involved in a tier. Many of these will already be in County working during and immediately after the storm.

  • Tier 1: Public Safety: Those needed for rescue efforts, road clearing, initial damage assessments, to restore water and electricity, to work on roads and bridges and to secure military bases, gated communities and other key facilities.
  • Tier 2: Essential Support: Those needed to continue to restore hospitals, other medical facilities and government operations. Hospital administrators will be given a specified number of these passes from the committee.
  • Tier 3: Includes utility workers and those essential to gated communities or other planned developments, including security, managers, public works staff and engineers.
  • Tier 4: Business owners, county residents and those who own property here.
  • Tier 5: Anyone else who does not live or work in the County.

Everyone in the first three tiers will get specially designed and coded cards to pass them through checkpoints. Officials say it will help ease the process and allow folks to pass through quickly with their credentials.

Emergency officials are also making sure you know who to tune in to find out the “correct” information before you hit the road.

Beaufort County has already worked on their social media response, some of which was seen after Irma. It plans to make sure everyone knows the correct message on reentry, coming from their office.

“It won’t stop everybody, but there were folks that came back, a great number of them, that based it on what a friend of theirs or a friend of a friend said, and we are saying don’t pay attention to that,” said Baxley.

The reentry proposal is now in the hand of local town councils throughout Beaufort County to approve. Once the EMD gets the go ahead, it will begin printing those cards.

The hope is to have them in everybody’s hands by the end of May.

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