Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Georgetown County government will mark the start of the 2014 hurricane season by participating in a large-scale preparedness exercise during the first week of June.
Set for June 2-5, the exercise is part of a statewide drill organized by the S.C. Emergency Management Division, and Georgetown County will play a key role.
County residents should expect to see unusual activities in the area that week, including the presence of military aircraft.
The scenario for the exercise involves landfall of a Category 3 hurricane near Charleston, causing devastation to Georgetown County, including destruction of the bridges linking the Waccamaw Neck to the City of Georgetown.
With residents stranded on Pawleys Island, the county will request assistance from groups including the South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) and the S.C. Air National Guard.
This training will assist the coordination efforts of federal, state, regional and local emergency response capabilities needed to save lives and protect the public and their property prior to and following a hurricane.
A mobile emergency operations center will be set up at the Georgetown County Airport, which will also be hard hit by the hypothetical storm.
The S.C. Air National Guard will offer assistance by bringing in resources to support mobile communications and setting up a mobile air traffic control center.
F-16s will be in the area for damage assessment, while a C-130 cargo plane will be brought in to airlift supplies to victims stranded on the Waccamaw Neck. SC-HART’s Blackhawk helicopters will be brought in for search and rescue operations.
The scenario is also expected to include a chemical spill just outside Georgetown, giving emergency responders a chance to test hazmat skills.
3V, Inc., a chemical company, will team up with the county for this portion of the exercise.
A complete schedule for the exercise is still being put together, but June 2 and 3 are expected to be dedicated to preparation for an approaching storm, including evacuation. Landfall is planned for June 4 and recovery activities and the hypothetical chemical spill are expected on June 5.
The exercise begins just one day after the start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1. In addition to offering valuable training for emergency responders and other county officials, Sam Hodge, the county’s emergency manager, said he hopes the drill will also raise public awareness and motivate residents to make their own emergency plans.
The peak of the Atlantic hurricane season normally doesn’t come until around September, but that makes now an ideal time to start preparations.
“It’s never too early to start getting ready, but it can easily be too late,” Hodge said.
“The last thing you want to do is wait until a storm is barreling toward our coastline to start thinking about things like what to do with pets during an evacuation or whether your home insurance policy will cover what you need it to if we’re hit by a hurricane.”
Many residents don’t realize the state has a 15-day waiting period for new wind or hail coverage to go into effect, and even longer for flood coverage.
A homeowner who waits until a storm is on its way to change their insurance policy will be out of luck.
“Those are the kinds of things people need to be thinking about now, “Hodge said. “This is the time to call your insurance company, to put together evacuation kits and to start thinking about where you’re going to go if you need to evacuate.”
He said the advice stands for residents near the beachfront, as well as those located farther inland. While most people focus on areas east of Highway 17 when talk turns to hurricanes, storm surge could affect areas well into Georgetown and flooding could pose life-threatening danger even in the western reaches of the county.
Hodge recommends every family, individual, business and group in Georgetown County have a disaster plan in place that includes what to do in a hurricane.
Residents should also realize that in the event of a major hit by a hurricane, utilities could be out for weeks and it could take months for life to get back to normal.
There’s no avoiding that sort of threat on the coast, so the best thing to do is be as prepared as possible, Hodge added.
Information to help residents get ready for hurricane season is available at www.gtcounty.org/emergency_management or www.scemd.org.
Residents can also call Georgetown County’s Emergency Management Division at 843-545-3273.