Improving communications

by | December 25, 2018 12:00 pm

Last Updated: December 24, 2018 at 11:48 am

Colleton County Fire-Rescue Assistant Chief Dr. David Greene showed off the remodeled Emergency Operations Center the morning of Dec. 19 to some special guests.
Approximately 200 Colleton Middle School students came to the home of Colleton County Emergency Management Division as part of their study of weather and weather emergencies.
Greene and Capt. Janet Laney conducted the tour of the facility, explaining the operations during an emergency or disaster and how the center utilizes representatives from area agencies and businesses to meet the needs of the community during a large-scale emergency or disastrous event.
The tour covered how Colleton’s EOC fits into the South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s plans for response and recovery and ultimately with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Students had the opportunity to role play by filling in the different Emergency Support Functions and figuring out how to manage resources to help the community recover from a mock natural disaster — a simulated hurricane.
Students then went outside to tour one of Fire-Rescue’s Hazardous Materials Units with Battalion Chiefs Brent Dalton and Scott Feather and saw how the weather plays a role in managing natural and manmade events that responders encounter every day.
The students were the second group to get a look at the revamped center last week. On Dec. 17, the officials who are stationed at the operations center got a look at how the center has changed since they spent long hours in the building when Hurricane Florence was headed to the mainland in mid-September and returned again in early October when officials were keeping an eye on Hurricane Michael.
“Almost everyone came by to see new configuration,” Greene said. “We are continually grateful for their support. This would not function without them — there are so many moving parts and everyone has to play their role.”
During Hurricane Florence, Greene, who heads the operations center, saw that the physical layout of the center hampered what might be the most critical facet of dealing with an emergency: communications.
The old center had a wall between the main portion of the room and the meeting area. In the main portion, those working the incident were closed off from each other in cubicles.
Under the old system, when the state emergency management was conducting a conference call with all the counties under the emergency, the call came into a speaker phone sitting on the table in the meeting room. The chairs around the table quickly filled up, and those working in the cubicles could not hear the conversation.
In addition to getting rid of the walls, a new speaker phone has two remote speakers that can be placed on the other tables to more easily have everyone involved in the conference call.
In a news story following Hurricane Florence, Greene said, “We want to try and tear down the walls, open it up a little more.”
Now that wall and those cubicles are gone.
“There is more space this way. You can get more people inside,” Greene said. He estimates that 65 people can gather in the room at one time.
The cubicles have been replaced by a series of large conference tables. Running down the middle of each table are ports that allow those assigned to the table to plug in their own laptop or one of the laptops the center has available.
Every seat at the table has a new phone that contains several features that improve the level of communication, including an option that allows the worker to have calls automatically forwarded to their cell phone if he or she needs to be out in the field.
The new phone system allowed the county to reduce the number of phone lines needed for the center. This will save the county substantial monthly costs for phone service.
The phones are voice-over-internet. If the internet goes down, there are traditional phones waiting in the wings. In the communications room, a variety of different radio systems are deployed. If that form of communication goes down, a satellite phone can be pressed into service.
Each chair has a color-coded vest that immediately lets other workers what facet of the operation that person is involved in. Green is the command table, yellow is planning, blue is logistics and red is operations.
Greene said the revamped operations center layout is patterned after the state emergency operations center.
He said that most of the changes were paid for with grant funds.
The improvements would not have been possible without the support of Colleton County Council, Greene said. In times of emergency ,“I think all of them have been here at one time or another.”

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