Preparing for a storm: Hurricane season is here

CHARLESTON — Summer in South Carolina means hurricane season, which officially started in June and runs through Nov. 30.

It’s the time of year when families, businesses and communities along the coast are encouraged to prepare supplies and evacuation plans in advance, and it’s the same for parishes and other organizations in the Diocese of Charleston.

The diocese has a disaster response blueprint which was revised in 2007 and can be found under Diocesan Departments in the Catholic Charities section of the diocesan website (

The plan includes guidelines for parishes and families to use in preparing for hurricanes and other natural catastrophes, and also outlines how response would be handled around the diocese.

The diocesan strategy involves people from all regions of the diocese and calls for a coordinated effort involving Catholic Charities offices, parishes, the American Red Cross, other relief agencies, and local, state and federal officials.  Individual parishes are encouraged to have a disaster response coordinator who can work with Catholic Charities at the deanery and regional level, the parish pastor or administrator, and other volunteers in developing disaster response plans.

Deacon Ed Peitler, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charleston, said parishes in all regions should prepare for hurricanes and other disasters. As hurricane season nears, this especially holds true for parishes in the Lowcountry, Coastal and Pee Dee deaneries.

“We’ve encouraged the parishes along the coast to have someone to coordinate their disaster plans, and to figure out what they need to safe guard — such things as the safe-keeping of important archives, church records and sacred vessels,” Peitler said.

One particular concern at the parish level is how to protect the Holy Eucharist and other blessed or holy items in the event of a calamity, and how to carry on with worship if church buildings are damaged or destroyed, Peitler said.

Parishes also are encouraged to identify “high risk” individuals or groups in their parish who would be especially vulnerable during a disaster and unable to evacuate, according to the guide. Examples include the elderly, the disabled, people who live alone or don’t have transportation, migrant workers and those who don’t speak English.

Coastal parishes have been paired with inland parishes that could help them if a hurricane should hit.

Catholic Charities also is working with other agencies in the state to prepare for the massive relief efforts needed after a major storm.

Catholic Charities in the Charleston area works with the Trident Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). VOAD is a regional branch of a national organization that coordinates the efforts of different groups so that response is more effective.

The Charleston area VOAD coordinates efforts with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Trident United Way, the United Methodist Church, the Charleston Baptist Conference and Catholic Charities.

Helen O’Leary, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Coastal Deanery, also serves as regional disaster coordinator. She said Catholic Charities’ main function in times of crisis is to provide case management and financial assistance for people in need.

After Hurricane Katrina evacuees arrived in South Carolina in 2005, she said Catholic Charities representatives worked with the American Red Cross and other agencies to help them find the help they needed.

Peitler asked people involved with planning on the deanery or parish level to check the document and notify Catholic Charities if information needs to be updated, especially the names or contact information for parish disaster coordinators. Information should be e-mailed to jlatt

In the event of a disaster, some Catholic churches in the Charleston area will work with other area churches through a “cluster program” being developed by East Cooper Community Outreach, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving poor and needy people.

ECCO was founded after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 through the efforts of Msgr. James Carter, pastor of Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant.
Jack Little, executive director of ECCO, said the organization regularly works with volunteers from Christ Our King, Stella Maris Church on Sullivans Island, and St. Benedict Church in Mount Pleasant. The goal of the cluster program is to have churches coordinate relief services.

“We’re trying to establish clusters throughout the East Cooper area — Mount Pleasant, McClellanville, Awendaw,” Little said. “The goal is to have churches pre-plan what their response would be after a storm. One church has said they could shelter and feed volunteers, while another could offer a chain-saw crew. A Lutheran church said they have a crew that could do temporary home repair. The goal is to coordinate services and reduce the duplication of services.”

Little said ECCO also is trying to obtain a radio system that would help church volunteers communicate with others in their cluster, especially when working in rural areas.

To learn more
about hurricane preparation,
Make a plan for your family
Discuss the types of hazards that could affect your family.
Know your home’s vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind.
Locate a safe room or the safest areas in your home. Remember, the safest areas may be in your community.
Determine escape routes and places to meet. These should be measured in tens, rather than hundreds, of miles.
Have an out-of-state friend as a family contact, so all your family members have a single point of contact.
Make arrangements for your pets if you must evacuate.
Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones. Make sure your children know how and when to call 911.
Check your insurance coverage. Flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
Stock non-perishable emergency supplies and a disaster supply kit.
Take First Aid, CPR and disaster preparedness classes.