South Carolina public health officials are concerned about the relatively low number of people who stayed in emergency shelters when Hurricane Matthew blew through the Lowcountry last year.
Department of Health and Environmental Control officials say a new survey starting this weekend will ask coastal residents what they did during the hurricane and if they have a plan for the next disaster. Deputy Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness Jamie Blair said his agency wants to know why residents did not use the shelters.
“We’re just trying to validate, did people already have a plan to take care of themselves? To go to hotels, go stay with families?” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Was it because they didn’t have transportation and they need transportation to get to these shelters? Did they not know the shelters existed?”
Emergency staff at various Charleston area shelters indicated they were less than a quarter-full as Matthew traveled to the coast. While the storm ended up coming ashore in Beaufort County as a Category 2 storm before proceeding further up the coastline, state officials issued the evacuation order while Matthew was still a Category 4 storm blowing through the Caribbean.
“Health and environmental emergencies can happen suddenly and without warning,” DHEC Director Catherine Heigel said in a statement. “Having a skilled, prepared team ready to respond quickly, efficiently, and effectively can be the difference between life and death. Public assistance with this survey will ensure these dedicated professionals can capably serve their communities when emergencies strike.”
DHEC staff, SC Public Health Reserve Corps volunteers and a local amateur radio club will visit homes in Horry and Georgetown counties on Saturday to invite residents to take the survey. The agency will ask those residents to fill out an anonymous online survey and follow up with a phone call, if necessary. More staff and volunteers will canvass neighborhoods in Charleston, Colleton, Beaufort and Jasper counties a week later June 17.
Besides information on Hurricane Matthew, Blair said staff and volunteers will also be teaching residents how to create a disaster preparedness plan for the next time a storm comes their way.
“If a disaster happens, we can’t get everywhere instantaneously to help everybody,” Blair said. “So by helping them be prepared and know what to do to prepare for a disaster, that will help us.”
The state Emergency Management Agency attributes five deaths to Hurricane Matthew, although all occurred away from the coast. Three were due to flooding while a fourth individual fell out of his wheelchair and drowned. A fifth death occurred during a cleanup accident.