June 1st marked the start of the Atlantic hurricane season and Georgetown County spent the week preparing for the worst-case scenarios in tandem with state and local organizations.
The S.C. Emergency Management Division organized the week-long drill, which included a variety of events across Georgetown County involving multiple emergency scenarios.
On June 3, the scenario depicted a Category 3 hurricane near Charleston that destroyed the bridges connecting the Waccamaw Neck and Georgetown. The South Carolina Helicopter and Rescue Team (SC-HART) flew a Blackhawk helicopter to the Midway Fire Rescue headquarters in Pawleys Island and rescued two “citizens” – Midway Firefighter Justin Lenker and S.C. Air National Guardsman Jorge Intriago – from the roof of the station’s training tower.
Midway Chief Doug Eggiman, who was airlifted in a similar exercise earlier in the day, said during a hurricane the need for air rescue would be “probable. If the bridge is out we will have to airlift resources [in] and people [out].”
Eggiman said it would be “not at all uncommon” for a rescue organization such as SC-HART to perform aquatic rescues as well.
The June 4 exercises took place at the Georgetown County Airport, where the 169th Fighter Wing of the S.C. Air National Guard set up a mobile control tower to guide emergency military plane activity after a hurricane has made landfall.
A variety of other resources, including medical and communications tents, were set up at the airport.
The guardsmen explained that in the case of a hurricane, the 169th Fighter Wing could convoy from McEntire Join National Guard Base in Eastover to Georgetown County in around two hours. Upon arrival, the team has a two-hour deadline to set up the mobile base, which includes a mobile air traffic control tower, generator and two support tents.
Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder said the 169th was set up for June 4’s exercise in an hour-and-a-half.
As part of the exercise, the air traffic controllers in the unit communicated with a C-130 plane, which flew over the airport and simulated a supply drop. The contents of a drop are calculated using a formula that balances population, damage and need, said Sam Hodge, the county’s emergency manager. Supplies dropped would most likely include water, meals ready to eat and medical supplies, he said.
Two F-16 planes also flew over the airport. According to Snyder, the F-16s are equipped with cameras and are typically sent in to assess the damage after an incident.
Snyder said depending on the severity of the situation, a mobile air base would also be used to transport people.
He said the S.C. Air National Guard is constantly training to maintain proficiencies and has a passion for preparing for local disaster relief.
“We are citizen airmen, this is our state too. South Carolinians are our neighbors. In a real situation, who would you want taking care of your? Your neighbors.”
3V, Inc., a chemical company, hosted the June 5 exercises. In the emergency scenario, a car accident between a bus of citizens and a large truck has just taken place in a post-chemical spill environment.
Local emergency personnel from Georgetown County Fire Rescue and a S.C. Air National Guard decontamination team had a chance to test their hazmat skills during the exercise.
Victims of the crash – both dummies and live volunteers – had a variety of injuries the emergency personnel had to assess, transport, decontaminate and treat. While the GCFR crew was helping the victims from the bus crash and treating severe wounds, the decontamination team had 20 minutes to set up its tent.
Once assembled, the team dressed in decontamination suits and helped the victims wash away the chemicals. Each patient is expected to take five to 10 minutes to decontaminate. After they were cleaned, the victims went to a second tent where a triage team assessed and treated injuries and prepared patients for transport to local hospitals.
Jackie Broach, the county’s public information officer, said while the week’s events were part of a state-wide initiative, coastal Georgetown County played a “key role” in the preparation for Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts until Nov. 30. The county Emergency Management Division was involved throughout the entire week.
Broach said the county urges all residents to prepare their own plans in the case of an emergency; families, individuals, faith-based organizations and businesses all need to have a plan.
“We are taking this time to practice and we hope area residents are too,” she said.
Residents may contact the county Emergency Management Division to access resources and additional information at 843-545-3273 or online.