Officials question notification methods after Horry Co. wildfire

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It was one of South Carolina's most devastating wildfires to date, but now new 911 tapes from the Horry County wildfires show there may have been confusion between local officials over a reverse 911 system.

A reverse 911 system lets residents in a specified area know of an emergency, but audio tapes between Horry County and North Myrtle Beach dispatchers show confusion over whether such a system even existed.

As it turns out, there is not one in the North Myrtle Beach area and now some residents are questioning if the emergency system should be in place for life-threatening emergencies.

Horry County, however, utilizes a Geo-calling system, which can take up to 45 minutes to dispatch emergency information to county residents.  Randy Webster, director of the Horry County Emergency Operations Center, says despite the delay, there are alternative ways to get the word out faster.

"Local media is excellent," he said.  "We can get the message out much quicker that way.  If it's necessary, we can go door-to-door, which has been done."

Door-to-door notification of the wildfire raging in the Barefoot community was one way police and emergency officials were able to alert residents of the worsening wildfire conditions in May.

"When you're dealing with minutes, you've got to take more of appropriate action [and] quickly," he noted.

Mike Basarab, one resident evacuated by door-to-door notification efforts in May, says when emergency officials approached his home, his family had only 1- to 15 minutes to leave.

"We just jumped into the golf cart and the car, backed up onto the driveway and sped away," he recalled Wednesday evening.

However, others weren't as lucky as immediate evacuations were ordered for some sections of the Barefoot community.  That's why Basarab says a notification system should be put in place before another tragedy strikes.

When WMBF News took Basarab's concerns to Webster and the Horry County Emergency Management, Webster said officials are currently analyzing the situation to see how a select group of people can be contacted in a short amount of time.

May's Horry County wildfire destroyed 76 homes and damaged an additional 96 residences over more than 19,000 acres of land.  Estimates from the South Carolina Insurance News Service show damage topped $25 million.

The largest fire in state history was also in Horry County in 1976, where 30,000 acres burned.

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