Communication is the key in preparing for emergencies
by The Press and Standard | September 20, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: September 18, 2018 at 3:44 pm
The walls are going to come down at the Emergency Operations Center.
After working through the preparations for Hurricane Florence, Deputy Chief David Green, who leads Fire-Rescue’s Emergency Management Division, said the the banks of cubicles assigned to those working on the preparations need to go.
“We want to try to tear down the walls, open it up a little more,” Green said. “We need more room. The configuration is not ideal.”
Those handling their assignments from the cubicles, he explained, “can’t talk to each other.” If they try to talk, they end up yelling at each other.
Officials from the South Carolina Emergency Management Department working with local officials said several times that the Emergency Operations Center needed more space.
While that could be one option, Green said a reconfiguration of the existing center might solve the problem.
Communication is a key to preparation.
Green said that the state conducted a conference call with all the operations centers in operation around the state twice a day. The state conference call was put on speaker so everyone at the center had a chance to listen to it.
About 15 minutes before those morning and afternoon calls, the local office conducted a conference call with all the local organizations to find out what each of those entities wanted to see addressed in the state call.
Then about 15 minutes after the state call ended, another local conference call was held to make sure everyone involved in the center’s operation knew the latest information from the state.
Phone calls into the operations center — they had hundreds — grew in volume, especially after the two times that misinformation, generated outside the center, made residents concerned.
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, a few hours after the evacuation order had been lifted for everywhere but Edisto Beach, the state sent out a text message to Colleton County calling for an evacuation of all zones. That generated a lot of calls. The county wants to talk to the state EMD about it later, after the state is done working on the flooding in the Pee Dee and Upstate.
The second rash of calls came in when someone found an old curfew order from Hurricane Matthew and posted it on Facebook. Officials went on Facebook to correct the information.
“The interaction between the various agencies went very well,” said Fire-Rescue Chief Barry McRoy. He pointed out that the agencies involved in the preparations practiced the procedure several times.
Although Hurricane Florence was the first emergency handled since fire-rescue took over the county’s emergency preparedness system, McRoy said, the department was not new to the game.
In previous weather emergencies, he explained, fire-rescue set up its own emergency operations center at headquarters to oversee its work during those emergencies.
“We have got experience working with all these players in the past,” Green added.
To ease the workload on those charged with dealing with the myriad of details, Green put together two complete emergency management teams. Green headed the 12-hour daylight shift; Assistant Chief Marty Stallings handled the night shift. “The concept worked very well,” McRoy said.
They pointed out that the center has a break room with a refrigerator, coffee pot and microwave oven, but based on how the center operated night and day for a week while preparing for Hurricane Florence, feeding the workers was not a problem.
McRoy said citizens brought in food, family members brought in food, and several restaurants and businesses donated items. “Food was not an issue.” The center’s two restrooms were kept busy.
Another change Green and McRoy would like to see will have to come from the state. They want to see three hurricane zones established in Colleton County.
What they envision is a Zone A that basically cuts the current Zone A in half.
The new Zone A would stretch from ACE Basin Parkway or railroad line that abuts the roadway to the coast and include the county’s coastal areas from Edisto Beach to the White Hall area.
What would be left in the existing Zone A would become Zone B, and the current Zone B (which covers the Walterboro area) would become Zone C.
They aren’t sure if the state will agree to the changes, pointing out that the state officials used flood zone maps when determining the current zones’ locations.
Throughout the course of the week in the operations center, county and Walterboro officials visited to offer their support. Assistance from the sheriff’s office and school system was instrumental in putting everything together.
“The first time ran very well,” McRoy said.