County, city officials return from hurricane institute with new - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

County, city officials return from hurricane institute with new ideas to tackle next disaster

(Source: WMBF News) (Source: WMBF News)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Dozens of Horry County and city officials are back or on their way back to the county from FEMA's Emergency Management Institute in Maryland.  

While there, they received an intense crash course on how to deal with several emergency scenarios, and improve response and preparedness in Horry County.

"Look at the worst-case things and say, 'OK, how can we best deal with that worst-case scenario?" Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said as he described the EMI conference.  

Vaught said 72 officials from Horry County, Surfside Beach, Conway, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach traveled to Maryland. Their cost to take the course was covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he added.

Vaught said they trained for any event that requires a lot of resource coordination. He specifically mentioned hurricanes, storms, an active shooter and Bike Week.

However, the teams specifically focused on training for a Category 4 hurricane.  FEMA officials who led the course have been studying Horry County to give them the most likely scenarios, according to Vaught. 

Assistant city manager Fox Simons also went to the course. Both men said a lack of electricity, cellphones and communication towers played a roll in the scenarios.

The discussion also hit on transportation issues, specifically lane reversals and how early to announce an evacuation, Vaught said.

Some pre-planning that will take place ahead of the next storm is pre-positioning gasoline trucks around the county and finding a second "home base" for fire, EMS and police in case a station is damaged, Vaught said.

Barriers may be put around the Horry County Emergency Operations Center in Conway to guarantee it will never shut down in emergencies. A dirt barrier and water-filled barrier were presented as options at the conference. 

Communication is also a huge issue. Vaught said during Hurricane Matthew a few police officers were unreachable. In addition, he added that officials stationed inside the EOC couldn't communicate with their families.  

Vaught said they'll be looking at ways to change that for the future.  

"A man can't focus on the task at hand if he's worried if his family survived the storm," Vaught said.

Other communication improvements are social media monitoring.  

"We will have to have people monitoring Facebook and Snapchat, and all those others looking for false information that's out there and refuting it...and putting out the true word. Making sure what's out there is accurate and up to date."

Vaught said council met at the EOC to help make evacuation decisions as Hurricane Matthew was approaching. Along with the governor and her team, county council members aided in the evacuation timing decision. 

In fact, Vaught said former governor Nikki Haley wanted to evacuate Horry County three days earlier, but council weighed in and pushed for the later evacuation time.

"If you think about ... we've got 500,000 visitors in town and we lose three days of 500,000 visitors room rentals," he said. "The restaurants lose that business."

Both Vaught and Simons said the county and city will review current plans and make adjustments as needed.

Of course, both men said safety is the No. 1 priority.  When it comes to evacuations, they said they cannot force people to leave. However, first responders will not operate if wind speeds are consistently over 40 mph.

"We did a good job, I think, with Hurricane Matthew and everything that was done, but that was only a category 1," Simons said.

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