It's been 25 years since Hurricane Hugo devastated the Lowcountry, but disaster preparedness leaders aren't letting their guard down.
The 2014 Red Cross Mid-Atlantic Division Hurricane Conference began Tuesday in Charleston, giving Red Cross leaders from across the Carolinas and Virginia the opportunity to get acquainted and learn together.
"If you wonder what keeps me up at night, take a look at these photos," American Red Cross Palmetto regional CEO Louise Welch Williams told the audience as pictures of Hurricane Hugo's damage and cleanup flashed across the screen behind her. "Our community needs you."
This is the first time the conference has taken place in Charleston, and Williams said she jumped at the chance to host it.
"I want everyone to be familiar with our landscape and for us to feel like we're part of their lives," she said. "Because if we have a catastrophic event, those are the faces that will be the first to come help us."
Lou Palm, disaster services manager for the Palmetto Region of the Red Cross, said much of the conference would be devoted to going over leadership plans and networking protocols.
"It gives them the opportunity to know each other beyond business cards," he said. "Having direct contact gives you immediate resources."
If a natural disaster struck Charleston, other regions of the Red Cross would send assistance in the form of volunteers and resources, Palm said.
For example, the Palmetto Region, which oversees 35 counties in South Carolina, estimates that 200 shelters would need to be opened and operated to deal with a storm similar in strength to Hurricane Hugo. The shelters would likely need volunteers and supplies from regions that had not been hit, Palm said.
Williams said the conference is simply a continuation of what the Red Cross does every day.
"We're committed to this community, and we think the best way to honor that commitment is to make sure that we're prepared for the next big storm, whenever and wherever it is," she said. "My fear for Charleston is that people here will become complacent, because we've not had one in a while."
Reach Katie West at 937-5574.