Help experts understand our hurricane behavior

The last time Beaufort County experienced a full-blown hurricane evacuation was 1999.

A lot has changed here since then, including tens of thousands of new residents in the Lowcountry.

That's why we welcome a survey from university researchers and emergency management officials aimed at learning just how storm savvy we are.

County residents can expect to find the survey in their mailboxes soon, and they should take the time to fill them out and return them. The survey is part of work being done by University of South Carolina geographers, S.C. Emergency Management Division planners and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Residents in Jasper, Colleton, Charleston, Georgetown and Horry counties also will get the survey.

State officials will use the information to better locate shelters, set evacuation routes and establish procedures for residents to return after a storm.

The state's Hurricane Evacuation Study hasn't been updated since 2000. That was the year after the 1999 Hurricane Floyd evacuation debacle that resulted in millions of people trapped in traffic gridlock all across the Southeast. Traffic was backed up for 75 to 100 miles. The nearest motel rooms for some leaving the Lowcountry were in Knoxville, Tenn.

The resulting review in South Carolina brought substantive changes in how state emergency management operates, improved communications systems for state and local emergency officials and improved evacuation planning, including lane reversals on major routes, such as U.S. 278, to move vehicles away from the coast more quickly and efficiently.

But key to successful evacuation efforts are the actions of the people who live along the coast, an ever-increasing number.

Similar surveys of coastal residents are conducted every year. Some of the results are always troubling.

In 2010, the National Hurricane Survival Initiative poll found that 45 percent of the people surveyed don't feel vulnerable to a hurricane or related tornados or flooding; 47 percent have no hurricane survival kit; and 13 percent would not evacuate even if ordered.

These are people who live within 30 miles of the coast. They are vulnerable, they should have a survival kit and they should go when ordered to evacuate.

Do we know what to do if a hurricane strikes or how to prepare for one? State emergency planners can get a better idea with this survey. Do your part by responding to it if it shows up in your mailbox.