Three years ago when Bobby Walters decided on his Eagle Scout project, he never realized the enormity of the task, which ultimately impacts every Georgetown County resident.
After traveling 700 miles, the 18-year-old Waccamaw High School graduate has marked 861 street signs so Georgetown County residents know which hurricane evacuation zone they are in. He achieved his goal with Boy Scout Troop 360 of Pawleys Island.
Markers like those Walters put up help residents identify if they need to evacuate during a storm when ordered to by the governor.
Officials say with the start of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season now is the time to prepare and learn if you leave in an evacuation zone before a storm threatens the Grand Strand.
The hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
Evacuation zones for coastal South Carolina were changed in 2012 after officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers released a study showing storm surge impacts.
They used technology to map coastal areas, so where once the Intracoastal Waterway served as a line of demarcation between coastal danger and inland safety, new storm surge models showed that areas of Horry and Georgetown counties that had never been under a mandatory evacuation order could be impacted by rising waters and should be evacuated.
Residents living in Bucksport, the Waccamaw Neck and other inland areas away from the ocean but near waterways, such as the Waccamaw River and Intracoastal Waterway, also are now in evacuation zones.
Also in 2012, state officials eliminated voluntary evacuation orders and now Gov. Nikki Haley will only issue mandatory evacuation orders.
On Friday, Haley stopped in Conway on her annual hurricane tour of coastal counties and urged residents and business owners to get prepared now for how they will deal with a storm threatening the coast.
“Have your emergency plan ready now, know your evacuation route and be ready,” Haley said.
Randy Webster, Horry County’s emergency management director, said he heard of Walters’ project but there are no plans for a similar effort in Horry County.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea and it’s a great way to put it out there visually,” Webster said. “I hope people will learn from it and realize where they are in evacuation zones.”
In Georgetown County, Sam Hodge, the emergency management director, said he spoke with Bobby Walters and his dad, Alan Walters, about the project before the teen started.
“It makes it easier for us from a public education standpoint. So many people think they need to evacuate when they don’t,” Hodge said. “It has really helped and it’s been a great reminder for people to know their zone.”
For Bobby Walters, the project was a learning experience.
“Everyone said that sounds like a great project. Then I started and I realized this was a lot more than I had realized it would be,” he said. “I learned how difficult it is to put together large-scale projects. Things like this don’t happen overnight.”
During the project, Walters said he transformed one of his bedroom walls with a map of Georgetown County and studied it often.
“I think I know Georgetown better than anyone,” the future University of South Carolina student said. “I had to hand write every street and intersection in each zone. It was 700 miles and 861 signs.”
For Bobby’s dad, Alan Walters, it was a lot of driving at first.
“It was interesting to see he didn’t realize the scope until he was in it. I think it makes him appreciate it more now,” Alan Walters said. “Down the road it will still be serving the community.”
Bobby Walters raised $1,400 to purchase the materials to put color coded bands on the street signs. The county is divided into red, orange and yellow zones. The project took 138 hours with Bobby Walters investing 96 of those hours personally. His troop helped him some.
“It was a little overwhelming, but I’m really glad I did it. I think the county is a lot safer now that it’s done, because all you have to do is walk outside and look at the closest street sign and you know what zone you’re in,” Walters said.
The project could save lives, especially for tourists or those visiting the area and unfamiliar with where they are staying, Hodge said.
“This completely redefined evacuation zones for Georgetown County and we were looking for a visible, straightforward way for people to quickly be able to identify their evacuation zone,” Hodge said. “Bobby came in and offered to take on this project for us and he’s done a stellar job. Wherever you are in the county, you’re not far from one of these colored bands.”
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or on Twitter @tonyaroot.