With hurricane season officially under way, Beaufort County officials are trying to hammer home the necessity of preparing early and heeding evacuation notices.
Every family should have an evacuation plan in place now, county emergency management director Todd Ferguson said Tuesday at the annual Hurricane Media Day at the county Emergency Operations Center in Beaufort.
"They should already know where they're going, how they're going to get there and what they're taking with them," Ferguson said. "The day to figure it out isn't when the storm's coming at you."
Part of the county's challenge is instilling vigilance in residents who haven't been forced to evacuate in more than a decade. The last full-scale evacuation of Beaufort County, Ferguson said, was during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
"I think the longer we go without an evacuation, the more complacent we're getting," Ferguson said. "And that's not a good thing."
County administrator Gary Kubic said that if a hurricane evacuation is issued, he expects some people will be skeptical of that call because the area has gone so long without a major storm hit.
But Kubic urged residents to heed the warnings and "to help us out a little bit by leaving early if they can."
TIPS TO REMEMBER
Here are a few things county staff says people should consider as this year's hurricane season opens today:
Check with your insurance company.
Residents should make sure they have insurance with updated values, Ferguson said.
"If you're not sure, call your insurance company and have them come out and take a look," he said. "You may want to know what your insurance company expects of you. They may require you to mitigate some portions of your house, or it may affect what they cover."
Conduct an inventory of your possessions.
An inventory and proof of ownership can help speed the insurance claims process and ensure that you get full value, Ferguson said.
"You can buy a $400 TV today, or you can buy a $4,000 TV today," he said. "Unless you can prove you had the $4,000 one, which one do you think your insurance company is going to pay for?"
If an evacuation is necessary, county staff suggests that anyone who can go early should do so.
There are advantages to leaving early, too, said county public safety director William Winn.
Mandatory evacuations follow a set route, and residents could be bogged down for hours in traffic. Those who leave during the voluntary evacuation period can choose their route and get there faster.
"I always say the golden rule of evacuation is, 'He who leaves first, gets the closest and best hotel room,' " Winn said.