Big changes in hurricane response coming to Horry County

Major changes are coming to the way emergency management officials respond to hurricane threats in Horry County. Starting with the 2012 hurricane season which begins June 1, the new rules as written by the S.C. Emergency Management Division will require more Horry County residents to evacuate when a hurricane approaches the area, according to county officials.

The changes are the result of a new study conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It's the first comprehensive study of hurricane response since Hurricane Hugo struck South Carolina in 1989, county officials said.

The changes will include a new storm surge map that will impact a larger area of the county, new evacuation zones, more time allotted to evacuate people away from the coast, new emergency shelters available inland and a campaign to bring awareness to the evacuation zone concept, said Horry County public information director Lisa Bourcier.

The biggest change will be that future evacuations will be based on a hurricane's storm surge potential, instead of its wind speed, Bourcier said. That change makes sense, she said, because flooding - not wind - causes the most damage in a storm.

"We've seen storms in the past that are category 4 storms, but very small storm surge, so we evacuate too many people," Bourcier said. "So the state is actually trying to decouple that and really look at the storm surge, because we actually evacuate for storm surge and not wind."

Evacuation routes will not change, since no new major highways have been built in the county to take people away from the coast. But some emergency shelters will move to new locations, because the old shelters will now be in storm surge zones.

The danger from storm surge has always been there, but emergency management planners now have better technology to be able to measure it, Bourcier said. The changes will mostly effect those who live in inland areas and not along the coast, she said.

"We're looking at a lot of what (Hurricane) Floyd did, the back flooding that happens on the Socastee creeks and Winyah Bay and how the flooding comes on the backside of the county."

Many people who haven't been required to evacuate during past hurricanes will have to do so now, Bourcier said, so she's hoping county residents will take the time to learn about changes in hurricane response, as county officials roll out the new rules next month.

"We've got several events planned, we've got lots of town hall meetings, we're putting together a web site and actually some interactive applications for the iPad that people can use as well, concerning a lot of these changes."

For more on the hurricane forecast for 2012, click here.