COLUMBIA - Seasoned heads of South Carolina's agencies say their familiarity with each other led to what they consider a very effective response to the two winter storms that pummeled the state in as many weeks.
Feb. 13: 144,539
Feb. 14: 117,727
Feb. 15: 68,670
Feb. 16: 30,452
Feb. 17: 18,299
Feb. 18: 10,541
Feb. 19: 5,261
Feb. 20: 2,467
Feb. 21: 1,700
Dozens of state and local agencies worked together during the two storms that forced the closure of the Ravenel Bridge in the Lowcountry and left nearly 350,000 without power throughout the state. As of Friday, 180 Palmetto State residents remained without power.
While Gov. Nikki Haley's leadership mobilized the agencies into working together, according to Kim Stenson, director of the state Emergency Management Division, it was the also fact that the heads of each of the agencies are veterans at responding to storms that helped with minor issues.
"We've got a very mature state emergency response team," Stenson said. "All levels of government took action early."
Plans that allow for calls to be made early don't just pop up at the last minute. Preparation for the winter season starts long before critical weather strikes, said Leland Colvin, director of the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
Colvin said his agency was monitoring the second storm as early as Feb. 7. The agency began pretreating all of the state's roads the morning of Feb. 11, before the storm settled over the state.
Since the latest storm, SCDOT has been mainly working on debris removal. Colvin believes it'll take up to four weeks for the agency to end its efforts successfully.
Despite their pre-planning, however, SCDOT caught some flak for the closing of the Ravenel Bridge, especially during the first storm that iced the Lowcountry's roads. Colvin said he understood the frustration in the closure of the bridge, but that driver safety was the agency's first concern. He added that the second storm wasn't as much of a problem as the one that struck in late January.
That week, state and local authorities decided on Jan. 28 it was time to cut traffic out of the Ravenel Bridge for safety reasons. Two days later, during the afternoon, the bridge was reopened for traffic. By the following morning, however, falling chunks of ice forced the bridge's closure for a second time, snarling traffic elsewhere.
"It's not a unique problem to Charleston," Colvin said. "Our northern neighbors close their bridges."
Colvin said the agency did foresee falling ice as a problem - but they just didn't notice any ice forming. He dispelled rumors that the bridge has an owner's manual, adding it's a maintenance and inspection manual that does not address ice formation.
Next time, however, they'll be prepared because the agency is speaking with a vendor on how to address ice formation, he added.
The agency is also evaluating whether additional equipment, such as trucks used to salt the roads, should be purchased. Colvin said, however, it's not just about buying equipment, though lessons were learned.
SCDOT wasn't the only agency that inspired grumblings from Palmetto State residents. During the peak of the storm, 144,539 energy customers were left without power. By Tuesday of this week, 97 percent of consumers who lost power had regained it, said Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff.
"It's a depressing thing to not have power," he added.
Coastal Electric reported more than 200 broken utility poles that couldn't bear the weight of heavy power lines pulling down on them, while Aiken Electric reported about 300.
Though the state brought in back-up from Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee, getting to remote areas is usually the issue. Nevertheless, Scott said he understood people's frustrations with their lack of power.
"You can't just respond as fast as people would want you to," added Stenson. "It takes time to do that."