The past few years of historic floods and hurricanes has amply demonstrated how subject South Carolina can be to severe weather emergencies. To help the public better understand how the state reacts to and deals with these situations, the S.C. Emergency Management Division has created a new program, the Citizens' Academy.
The Academy is a half-day program that enables participants - it can accommodate 25 per session - to tour the EMD facilities, receive classroom-type instruction on the agency's function and, especially, to take part in a tabletop exercize to simulate an actual emergency and role-play various functions performed by emergency personnel.
"We want people to understand who we are and what we do," said EMD spokeswoman Kim McLeod. "What better way than to bring them into our facility and show them?"
The situation given the inaugural group was a dam failure. Nicolas Walton of Bluffton said he learned that "communication, communication, communication is the main part of it all," but that the focus must remain on the human elements of a disaster. "It's 'how are you gonna save lives, how are you gonna get people out of the way (of danger).' And the second step is all the other resources that follow that. But the main goal is the human."
Frank Garrett said the exercise was hard, but worthwhile. "One of the good things about it is when you have multiple people coming together brainstorming, you're able to cover more bases."
Some of the roles McLeod listed that are needed in emergency management include operations manager, logistics people, public information people and incident commander. She said EMD takes an all-hazards approach to disaster response because South Carolina is subject to so many types of emergencies. "We like to joke and say the only thing we're not susceptible to is volcanoes. So we really need to be prepared for a wide varity of hazards here in South Carolina."
All the participants learned valuable lessons in the program which they plan to take back to their communities. EMD plans to offer the Citizens Academy each month. It hopes to take the program around the state to spread knowledge of emergency response across South Carolina to maximize the public benefit.
To learn more about the Emergency Management Division and the Citizens' Academy, visit scemd.org.