Crews from Hilton Head Fire Rescue work to remove downed trees from roadways in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. PHOTOS COURTESY TOWN OF HILTON HEAD ISLAND

Everyone living in the Lowcountry knows that we are still in the midst of hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 through Nov. 30. We also know that preparedness is key in defending against high winds and surging water levels.

Already this year, the Atlantic has had 25 named storms from Arthur to Laura to Sally. The list of designated names has now been exhausted, and officials turned to the list of names of Greek letters to name the storms. At press time, the latest storm is Gamma.

Rest assured that the Town of Hilton Head Island is as prepared as any municipality in South Carolina, which was reflected when it was awarded the state’s first #HurricaneStrong designation from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH).

“It’s another element to validate our program,” said Thomas Dunn, the town’s emergency management coordinator. “On a regular basis we review our plans, practice our plans and test our plans all year ’round … we try to make ourselves better.”

Dunn was pleased, a little surprised, and humbled but proud of the recognition the town earned in a virtual award ceremony hosted by the nonprofit national organization in late September.

“We are definitely as prepared as we can be at this point,” he said. “We have plans in place should we have another Matthew.

The town presented its action plan a few months ago to the organization for award consideration and was notified in July of its honor.

“They were looking at our emergency management program and how the town took seriously the education, ordinances, building codes and things in place to follow,” Dunn said.

“On behalf of the more than 100 public-private partners of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, we are proud to recognize the Town of Hilton Head as a #HurricaneStrong Community,” said FLASH Executive Vice President Eric Vaughn. “Hilton Head leaders are taking essential steps to foster and preserve citizen safety and disaster resilience. They maintain strong building codes, sustain excellent floodplain management, implement effective community outreach programs, and have earned the NOAA Weather-Ready Nation designation for safety and weather alerting.”

“The #HurricaneStrong designation demonstrates our commitment to hurricane planning, preparedness, education and response,” Dunn said.

The latest recognition comes five years after the town received the StormReady designation from the National Weather Service, which also reflects a high level of planning and programs in place.

Over the past four years, Beaufort County has been evacuated four times: Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Tropical Storm Irma in 2017, Hurricane Florence in 2018, and Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

“Over the course of time, the town has had an emergency management program that has been effective,” Dunn added. “It’s gotten better every year. I’m building on the foundation of my predecessors.”

FLASH provides important resource information about building codes, emergency preparedness from natural and manmade disasters, disaster resilience and disaster safety.

For homeowners, the organization recommends installing a wind-resistant roof and metal fasteners, reducing the uplift and potential damage to the roof system and covering, choosing the highest level of wind rated shingles, installing impact-resistant windows and doors, securing outdoor items from becoming windborne debris, and trimming tree branches.

Dunn communicates with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office almost daily about current and upcoming natural conditions, procedures and communication with the public. He advises all residents to be prepared, have an evacuation plan in place, and to stock up on necessities to last for at least 72 hours, if not longer.

For hurricane preparation information from local, county and national sources visit hiltonheadislandsc.gov/publicsafety/hurricane; bcso.net/emd; flash.org; and nhc.noaa.gov.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.