Evacuation drill serves as reminder to plan ahead for hurricanes

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – The South Carolina Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol and other state agencies practiced reversing traffic lanes on US Highway 501 Tuesday. The practice was part of an annual hurricane evacuation drill organized by the state's Department of Public Safety.

Other coastal areas of South Carolina practiced the evacuation plan as well.

Lance Corporal Sonny Collins with Highway Patrol for the northeastern part of the state said the drill is an important way to test the evacuation plan each year.

"We can make sure there's no changes in the roadways, [whether we] need to have more personnel or less personnel," Collins explained. "It gives us a chance to really look at our plan, make sure all of the resources are here and that way should a hurricane approach South Carolina then we know we're ready and we can just put the plan in action."

Collins said there is more to the drill than reversing traffic lanes though. Several agencies practice communication too.

"We have a lot of agencies working together, from state agencies to the National Guard to the Civil Air Patrol, to local agencies," Collins said, also referring to Highway Patrol, DOT and emergency management. "You have a lot of agencies so you need to make sure you can communicate with those agencies, and again that was part of the exercise - to get everyone on the radio together making sure everyone knows what is expected of their job and it will just be a simple task of putting it in action."

As the professionals think about evacuation routes, Horry County Emergency Management says now is the time for everyone to think about it too.

"So they can think through the process and they can come up with a plan," commented emergency planner Milt Seekins. "That's really the key. Know what you want to do. Know where you want to go. Know how you're going to get there."

Seekins said the goal is to have mandatory evacuations finished at least 30 hours before tropical-storm-force winds hit the coast. Voluntary evacuations will start earlier, and that is the best time to leave if you want to pick your own route and avoid traffic said Seekins. So he said now is the time to figure out which road to take because it will not be any easier to think about it later.

"It will be a beautiful sunny day just like today 36 hours before a hurricane gets here, and then when it gets here it's almost too late," Seekins said.

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