As my wife and I walk down an abandoned Broad Street in Charleston's beloved South of Broad neighborhood, the lyrics of 1980's rock band The Clash, reverberate in my head, "Honey you got to let me know, should I stay or should I go now?" In the past few days as Hurricane Florence has crept slowly northwards then westward, then northward again, we basked in the "beggar thy neighbor" luxury of knowing it was seemingly not headed here. Well not directly at least. How wrong we were ... and this is our story, one day out.
First, you hear it as a casual remark, "hey we got a big one coming," with an equally casual reaction, "Yep, here we go again, same as last year." We generally avoid the news channels for their temptation to "big-up" an issue and revert instead to seeking fact-based updates from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) - you have to love those factual, cautious scientists! Sure enough there she is in her glory, Hurricane Florence, out in the Atlantic, what feels like a million miles from anywhere but plotting to turn into a nasty beast as those warm south Atlantic waters feed the maw. Over the next day or so Florence moves west and more north, preparations continue but a certain complacency creeps in. But that plot has become a bit disconcerting as it now may be headed for landfall somewhere between Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
BUSINESS OPERATIONS PREPAREDNESS
So internally, we go into a sort of DEFCON 3 emergency mode, listing what needs to be done, by when and by whom. Staff firstly, some are out of town in Arizona at a vacation rental industry conference, where they had best stay as the Charleston airport is planning to close. Others are sent to work from home and secure their own families. Still others will be needed for a day or two to lock down our inventory in town, both those in our own portfolio and those that we manage for others. For our own family it's a question of stay on Johns Island or move to resident quarters downtown - and head downtown it is. 95 Broad Street has seen a lot in its 250 years or so, it's on high ground and centrally located so we feel it's as safe as it's going to get.
Our construction build sites are locked down, and we secure anything that may become airborne. Our construction work on Folly Beach is probably the most vulnerable so that gets special attention. Downtown is more troubling; we are elevating six buildings on Nassau Street, St Philip, and Hanover Streets, so our working inventory is vulnerable. Luckily three are already down on new footings, three ready for lifting and already internally braced. Additional wind bracing is added inside of the St Philip property and our Star Gospel site on Nassau Street, then it's clean up and lockdown.
Our Luxury Simplified Retreats business has guests staying at properties in town or due to check-in. All are contacted and apprised of the situation. Any bookings to occur beyond Thursday are shortened or canceled. Nearly every guest takes this with such good grace - occasionally there are issues, but on this we have to stand firm and stand our ground. If ever you are offered travel insurance, the advice from us is always to take it - the cost is minor in comparison to all other considerations. Our own homes and those we manage are secured and with safety in mind, the staff released.
KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON FLORENCE
Tick tick, tick tick, these are busy days and short nights. Then Florence changes track and starts to head south again. Those warm waters have fed both her size and wind speeds, she's a Category 4 and barreling into the coastal Carolina's. The words of the Clash ring loud but we are now committed. We have supplies, a generator, and our family are either out of town or secured with us. Our friends are gone, and our homes and properties are secure. It is a fact that the longer one stays in the lowcountry, the less likely a person is to heed a Mandatory Evacuation order. We are secure, on high ground, and seemingly well supplied. By staying put we accept that if the worst happens, we should not expect immediate help. The need to take personal responsibility looms large in these decisions.
We walked Broad Street with our dogs this morning. The last of those who plan to leave were packing for a one way trip down I-26. There was a small, stoic looking group that conversed in hushed voices, and three hardworking gardeners were blowing leaves from a driveway, with seemingly little concern for what is coming. So for now, "staring down the barrel of a gun" seems an appropriate metaphor for those who remain in this beloved and welcoming old city.
We closely watch Hurricane Florence, as she controls the trigger ... and the DEFCON 2 light just came on. We hope you all stay safe, dry, and well in the coming days.