Wednesday, November 28, 2012
As the northeast continues to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Georgetown County Emergency Management recently began operating a super high-tech room lined with 10 large flat video monitors and projection screens. Designed to improve safety and responsiveness, officials said they hope it will never have to be used for its ultimate purpose.
A larger-than-expected crowd got a glimpse of Georgetown County’s central command and control facility on Nov. 15, when the county hosted a dedication ceremony for its newly expanded Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Highmarket Street — site of the Georgetown County Emergency Services administration building.
Sam Hodge, Georgetown County emergency manager, said the 3,200-square-foot addition allows the “nerve center” to have sufficient space to house municipal, state and federal partners, along with county personnel, who may be on duty around the clock. The former EOC was limited to about 720 square feet.
EOC visitors saw work tables all over the central coordination room. Chairs were covered with colored vests, which were labeled with bold lettering indicating a person’s job during a response or recovery effort. A red vest was labeled “Volunteers Group Supervisor.”
County officials said planning for the addition started about two years ago. Funds totaling $828,000 for the building and equipment were allocated through the Capital Improvement Plan.
This is the third EOC for the county. The first was upstairs in a Broad Street building now being converted into a new Georgetown County Museum location. EOC was there until 2003, when it moved to Highmarket Street.
County Administrator Sel Hemingway welcomed guests, including emergency representatives from Horry, Marion, Dorchester and Orangeburg counties.
He talked about Hurricane Sandy’s recovery.
“Despite the best efforts of all us and all our brothers and sisters across the country for this endeavor, we fight a losing battle,” Hemingway said. “There will be losses and we can only do the best we can do to minimize them.”
County Council Chairman Johnny Morant said the construction project was a tremendous task and he was grateful for the work conducted by all.
“It was built with 200 yards of concrete to safe-room standards,” Morant said. “And is rated to withstand 150-mph winds during hurricanes and tornadoes. Electric service is backed-up by a 220-kw emergency generator, and 30,000 feet of data cabling went into the facility.”
Morant unveiled a dedication plaque, joined with Georgetown City Council Members Paige Sawyer and Peggy Wayne, Georgetown County Council Members Ron Charlton, Bob Anderson and Austin Beard, and City of Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville.
Mercom of Pawleys Island installed a video streaming camera on the ceiling, video teleconferencing, video links to schools and video cameras to the outside of the building, because it has no windows. The county’s Internet technology staff assisted.
There are local, county, state and national news feeds coming in through connections from Southern Coastal Cable and Time Warner Cable , Hodge said.
The space the EOC previously occupied will be used to expand the county’s disaster call center. Coastal Structures of Georgetown was the general contractor and architects were Tych and Walker, LLP.
Capt. Jason Hughes of the Salvation Army opened and closed the dedication event with prayer, and Jackie R. Broach, county public information officer, was recognized by Hodge for her communications effort in helping to launch the new center.
The new EOC will be able to handle any emergency, Hodge said.
“It is designed to handle all-hazards and better serve citizens and visitors. We plan for hurricanes more than anything else, because they present the greatest possibility for the biggest impact, but our emergency plan covers the full spectrum.”
Every person who works in the EOC has to pass a series of courses, Hodge said.
“About 75 city and county officials traveled this year to Maryland for a FEMA emergency management course. They put our emergency plan into action, responding to a mock hurricane disaster here.”
Hodge said the exercise showed the county plan is a sound one.
“But we always are looking to improve it. We learn from observing real-life disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, and how communities deal with them. After seeing what goes wrong and what goes right, we use it to improve our EOC operations.”
Hodge said he plans staff and public education programs, as he is concerned about keeping focused on preparedness.
“Even though hurricane season is wrapping up, residents should always have an emergency supply kit ready and a family emergency plan that includes pets.”
Evacuees from as far north as Garden City Beach are to go southward through Murrells Inlet into Georgetown County, taking U.S. Highway 17 south into Georgetown, then go west on U.S. 521 through Andrews toward Manning to S.C. 261 to U.S. 378 to Columbia. As an emergency arises local shelters open, but such space is limited in Georgetown. Plan to visit with family or friends inland if possible.
For shelter locations during an emergency, tune in to local television and radio stations or call 866-246-0133.
Hodge’s suggestions for a family emergency plan include securing the property before leaving and turning off gas, electricity and water. For the road trip take a flashlight, matches and candles, a full tank of gas in your car, radio and batteries, bottled water, non-perishable foods and a can opener, medicine, a first aid kit, cash and credit cards, toys or games for children and important papers.
By Lloyd Mackall
For The Times