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What Worked and Didnít Work During Ice Storm

web posted February 19, 2014             Photo: Matthew Blackwell

EDGEFIELD Ė Edgefield Daily sat down with Edgefield County Administrator Lynn Strom, EMA Director Mike Casey and Deputy EMA Director Suzy Spurgeon to talk about how the county and the Emergency Operations Command (EOC) responded to the massive ice storm last week. The effects of which are still being felt by many county residents, especially on the southern portion of the county. "Did we score a perfect score on this this time? No." Casey said. "Will we score a perfect score next time? No. Nothing is perfect."

However, meetings are being held and all the information compiled is being reviewed to see what worked best in certain situations and what flaws were exposed that need to be fixed. It is the latter that the county is looking at more closely and recommendations are already being suggested to make things better.

EMA Director Mike Casey said that the EOC was up and running on Tuesday as the storm began to move into the area and was collecting information from the seven fire departments, Sheriff's Office, law enforcement agencies, EMS, the County, SCDOT and the 911 dispatch center. "We all work as a team," Casey said, "And everybody did their part."

Casey made a point to mention that all seven fire departments did an excellent job in opening up roadways until it became too dangerous for them to be out as more and more trees began falling on Wednesday night. All units were called back to their respective stations to wait out the storm and only respond to fire calls.

The issue of available shelters for the most vulnerable left without power, water and heat has been the focus of countless emails complaining to Edgefield Daily, including a Letter to the Editor by a former School Board member, Les Culpepper, that ran on Tuesday.

The only three active shelters were the Edgefield County Hospital, the Edgefield County Council Chambers and Merriwether Fire Station 3 on Murrah Road. JET Middles School and Merriwether Elementary were supposed to be available for shelter until it was learned, "very quickly", that the generators there were not connected to a heating system and could not be used.

The issue with the schools is one of the items that is being reviewed. They are listed as shelters, but for things such as tornadoes or hurricane shelters, not shelters due to a winter disaster. With no heat, Casey said, "You'd just be moving Ma and Pa Kettle from one cold location to another so they couldn't be used."

Another issue addressed was the lack of information being shared with local media to provide details of open shelters or "warming stations" in order to inform residents of their options. Edgefield Daily received updates from SCDOT every four hours on road conditions, SCE&G and Aiken Electric Co-op were sending out regular updates on outages, as well as Aiken County and the Edgefield County School District. But no release came from the county other than to advise of closings.

County Administrator Lynn Strom said that was a matter that will be addressed as a result of the lessons learned from the historic ice storm. In future emergency situations the county will be sending out updates in a timely manner to local media outlets and would include information from EMA or other agencies she would be in contact with during the event.

Communications out of the control of the county included the loss of a tower for Kicks 99, which was toppled due to heavy ice. WKSX in Johnston was also knocked off the air for a few hours and at least two cell tower locations had service interrupted either by an overload of the systems or generator failure. Edgefield Daily fell prey to a blackout of updating for about 8 to 10 hours, fortunately most of it was in the very late night hours on Thursday and early morning hours on Friday. Our servers were available for traffic at all times.

What Worked 100%
Casey said that every generator operated by the Edgefield County EMA worked perfectly. These included generators at the communication towers, the County Council Chambers, 911 dispatch, the EMA/EOC building and others. "Every one fired up and worked flawlessly," Casey said.

Debris removal from state roads is being conducted by SCDOT. Removal of debris from county roads is being handled by the county road crew. The county does not remove debris from private property. Dep. EMA Director Suzy Spurgeon said most homeowners insurance policies have coverage to remove debris to a certain dollar amount and you should check with your agent to get more information or check your policy.

Cable and Internet
Most of the people in the county have their power restored, however; cable lines are still down in several locations and are slowly coming back on line. "I think as we see fewer power trucks we will see more cable trucks like Northland, Comcast and AT&T," Spurgeon said. "I feel certain they were trying to stay out of the way of the power crews."

As the county continues to debrief all agencies the information will be compiled and the contingency plan now used will be "tweaked" to be better prepared for the next emergency situation.

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