Tom Dunn: Emergency management director stayed calm before and after the storm

Tom Dunn

Here is a name to remember: Tom Dunn.

And, if you get a chance to meet Dunn, a kind-hearted family man with a ready smile and strong Christian faith, be sure to say "thank you."

As emergency management director for the Town of Hilton Head Island, Dunn generally gets little attention from the public. But it was his diligent readiness planning and organization skills that made the difference in the relative ease of the Hurricane Matthew evacuation and efficient initial recovery.

Dunn is no newcomer to major emergency events, like hurricanes.

In fact, coordinating the successful evacuation and recovery during Hurricane Matthew in October wasn’t even the biggest disaster he has ever been a part of.

What was?

"My fire company from Alexandria, Virginia, was one of the first responders on 9/11 to the plane that crashed into the Pentagon," Dunn said somberly.

It was an infamous day that is seared into Dunn's memory. His engine company was called into action minutes after American Airline Flight 77, bound from Washington's Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles, barreling into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.

The aircraft had caught the light poles in the parking load of the Pentagon, and hit the Pentagon at the first-floor level, with its right wing pointed up, crashing through the building’s outermost three rings. As Dunn arrived at the scene, fires were ablaze on all five floors and the air was smoky and intensely hot. Entering the structure, tiles were popping off the floors and water from the hoses was turning into steam. Ceilings had collapsed. Dunn was assigned to search and rescue, and said those grueling 48 hours were the most physically and mentally taxing period of his life.

Compared to that day, Hurricane Matthew was certainly a stern test of preparedness and organizational know-how, but Dunn felt himself much more in control. He had his plan in place plus a well-trained, capable staff to execute it with efficiency.

"Lots of people doing good work," Dunn said.

Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett had high praise for Dunn's efforts.  "Tom had prepared a comprehensive strategy where all personnel had their roles,” he said. “It was Tom's planning sessions plus exercises with state and county emergency workers as well as local private and public sector partners that were crucial to managing all aspects of the evacuation and access to critical facilities during re-entry."

Dunn is a native of the tiny Tidewater region of Virginia and the historic town of Tappahannock, known today as the home of Virginia's best hamburger, a wood-grilled delicacy fashioned by the NN Burger. He got started as a volunteer fireman and paramedic, moved to Alexandria for more hands-on experience and then up the ladder to a job where he was responsible for coordinating disaster planning, operations and recovery among 20 local governments in and around Richmond, Virginia. Arriving on Hilton Head in May 2012, Dunn hit the ground running to prepare for a pair of early season tropical storms — Alberto and Beryl — that threatened Hilton Head.

When not on duty, Dunn spends time at his Bluffton home with wife Wendy and his two teenage daughters, Cassidy and Haley.

Islanders can relax knowing that Dunn is always prepared.