Charleston County preps for hurricanes with drill at new emergency center

Cathy Harnes, Director of Emergency Preparedness at the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center, highlights the center´s plan for hurricane preparedness June 26,2013 Leroy Burnell/staff.

Don’t let the shiny new building fool you. The Charleston County Emergency Operations Center in North Charleston is ready for hurricane season and can withstand winds of up to 191 mph.

The center ran a full-scale hurricane drill Wednesday to practice protocol for a pre-landfall hurricane. A power outage was also simulated so staff could get accustomed to non-electronic means of communication.

The 38,000-square-foot, $26.7 million facility opened on Palmetto Commerce Parkway in January and has a goal of Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The center’s staff of up to 125 people and various emergency response teams are a hub for communication before, during and after a storm. The new center provides for more technology, such as video conferencing, and allows everyone on the team to work in the center at once.

“We want the people of Charleston County to realize that we are working and trained to handle an emergency situation,” said Cathy Haynes, the center’s emergency preparedness director.

The staff is divided into several teams to address citizens’ called-in questions, from “Where can I go for shelter?” to “When should I evacuate?” They also will use social media to get information out to the public.

The center will act as a liaison to the state Emergency Management Division, volunteer organizations and businesses. It will also coordinate requests for state and federal assistance in case of a disaster.

In case of an emergency before, during or after a disaster, you can call the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center hotline at 746-3900.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.