If a hurricane approaches Beaufort County, residents typically have one choice, says Beaufort County emergency management deputy director David Zeoli.
The state no longer issues "voluntary" evacuation orders; only mandatory orders are given, when strong storms approach.
County officials say they would recommend the governor order an evacuation for any storm of Category 1 or stronger, Zeoli said.
"If an evacuation order is issued, a threat is there and people need to pay attention to local media and weather forecasts and leave if told to," he said.
Some might still want to consider moving inland even if a less powerful tropical storm threatens the county, emergency management officials say.
For those who decide to hunker down, officials suggest people stay in a building that can withstand winds as high as 95 mph and have enough food and water on hand to remain self-sufficient for five days. However, residents who ignore an evacuation order do so at great risk to themselves and emergency personnel, Zeoli said.
"Those who decide to stay may not have emergency services available to them because responders are preoccupied with the evacuation and may not be able to get to them because of weather and road conditions," he said. "I highly encourage people to leave because help may not be there if they need it."
As was the case last year, Beaufort County is encompassed by a single evacuation zone. A study two years ago showed elevations in Beaufort County are lower than originally thought and that main evacuation arteries such as U.S. 278, U.S. 21 and U.S. 17 could be flooded before everyone is safely out of the county.
Thus, any evacuation order issued would pertain to all of Beaufort County.
Zeoli stressed it is imperative residents begin to review evacuation plans now, including knowing official evacuation routes, packing emergency clothes and supplies, and establishing a safe place to stay.
"Now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to review disaster plans and rehearse -- not during a hurricane," he said. "Be aware. Be alert. Know what to do if told to evacuate. Don't get too complacent. We've been very lucky over the past decade. The problem is you never know when that luck will run out."