New emergency-management director in Hilton Head prepping for tropical storm season

tbarton@islandpacket.comMay 29, 2012 

Typically, Thomas Dunn is ready at a moment's notice. After all, his job hinges on preparedness.

Mother Nature, though, threw him a curve ball. Four days into the job as Hilton Head Island's new emergency management coordinator, Dunn was forced to hit the ground running as Tropical Storm Alberto approached the South Carolina coast. And, now, Tropical Depression Beryl makes its northeastward journey, marking an early start to the hurricane season, which officially begins Friday.

"It was definitely unexpected," Dunn said. "I was hoping for a month or two to get up to speed and get organized.

"Fortunately, the staff here is awesome. They've been through this before. They know the plans and what to do. Also, the storms have minimal impact for us. It was a good exercise for me to see what goes on and lay out the checklist."

In recent days, Dunn has been busy issuing updates about Beryl through the town's emergency-alert service and assessing the number of fire and rescue personnel that would be needed if the storm strengthens, as well as running through checklists of emergency equipment and supplies.

Dunn says residents -- particularly those in low-lying areas and near water -- should be alert for possible flash floods, as Beryl could dump several inches on the Lowcountry. Toppled trees could become a concern if rain becomes sustained and winds pick up, he added.

"This has been a good opportunity for us to do some double-checks, and residents should take the time to do the same," he said. "This is the time to check where you'll go in the event of an evacuation and take an inventory of what you'll need to take with you: food, water, clothes, cash, important documents and prescription medications."

Residents should be self-sustaining for at least three days, according to the town.

Dunn was hired May 14 to replace Paul Rasch, who left in December after more than three years in the position. Rasch took a similar job with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, according to Lavarn Lucas, chief of the Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division.

Before coming to Hilton Head, Dunn was responsible for coordinating disaster planning, operations and recovery among 20 local governments in and around Richmond, Va.

Dunn also participated in hurricane planning in Virginia as a state emergency preparedness specialist. He worked with state and local departments to evaluate evacuation procedures and ensure communities had the resources to respond to storms. He also participated in regional disaster-response exercises and public outreach, leading sessions on personal preparedness. He has experience as a firefighter and paramedic, including as a training officer and instructor, according to his resume.

"We were looking for someone who appeared to be collaborative," Lucas said. "You're looking at someone who can work with other people and has a drive to get things accomplished. He'll be able to take our response plans and the county's plan and integrate them so we can provide the best response possible."

Related content

  1. Town of Hilton Head Island: Emergency Management Division
  2. National Weather Service: Charleston
  3. National Hurricane Center
  4. Possible tropical storm system moves away from Beaufort County coastline: May 25, 2012
  5. Tropical Storm Alberto hovers off Carolina coast: May 19, 2012

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