Emergency officials prep for storm

Elaine King (from left), Sally Brooks and Alison Rowland take part in an annual hurricane drill at the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday.

Brad Nettles

The skies were hot. The cones were orange. And the Highway Patrol cars on the interstate highway pointed the wrong way.

In the Lowcountry, those are sure signs of the coming hurricane season.

State, county and local emergency operations officials started showing their stuff Wednesday in an annual two-day drill to prepare for the landfall of a tropical cyclone. They put everybody and everything in place across the state, in operations centers and out on the roads, right down to the 1,500 traffic cones that will block and direct traffic in the event of an I-26 lane reversal.

Then they played out a mock scenario that made Hurricane Hugo veterans flinch a little when the images came up on the screens: Right on the heels of a tropical storm that dumped 25 inches of rain across the state, flooding rivers and low-lying areas, 114-mph Hurricane "Vince" came in on the track Hugo followed 19 years ago.

All in real time, with each of the people who would staff an emergency in position, doing what that person would be expected to do. In Charleston County alone, 75 people staffed the operations center. The lane reversal alone entails more than 300 law enforcement officers.

"We want to make sure everyone on those traffic control points are familiar with their missions," said Highway Patrol Cpl. Paul Brouthers.

He and Cathy Haynes, Charleston County emergency preparedness director, said the drill also serves as a nudge to residents, particularly newer ones: Get ready, be ready.