MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- United States Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction, visited the Air Station Aug. 17 to host a Hurricane Preparedness Hearing focused on the Lowcountry’s ability to manage a hurricane or natural disaster.
The senator’s visit began on Fightertown’s flight line with a tour of the Gulfstream 4 Hurricane Hunter, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The aircraft is designed to fly above and around hurricanes and collect data, which is then fed into numerical computer models, to provide better forecasts on how intense a hurricane will be and help predict when and where it will make landfall, according to a NOAA release.
“South Carolina is particularly prone to hurricanes,” DeMint said. “We are here today to help focus everyone in South Carolina on the need to prepare for hurricanes. We are in the Lowcountry because this is where most of the damage could be done.”
Following the aircraft tour, the senator traveled to the Officers Club to begin the hearing, where he and other officials discussed Beaufort’s plans in case of destructive weather and possible problems the Lowcountry would face if a major storm made landfall.
“(If a storm hit) we’ll have trouble evacuating the Lowcountry, because all the bridges and the number of people that are here,” DeMint explained. “Our job here today is to let people know we are working on getting better at predicting these storms, but to also work with first responders, work with our military in this case, to make sure we are ready for anything that could happen here in South Carolina.”
Evacuation issues were one of the main focuses during the hearing.
During the evacuation for Hurricane Floyd in 1999, long traffic delays were one of the primary challenges, as routes off the numerous islands in the area are limited by the existing bridges, explained Col. Robert Lanham, the Air Station commanding officer. This geographical fact complicates the execution of hurricane response plans and the timing of critical decisions.
Much of the ability to successfully evacuate depends upon accurate and timely weather information that is presented to the public in a format that convinces them of the necessity to leave, explained William Winn Jr., the director of the Beaufort County Emergency Management Division.
This year Beaufort County has implemented two new systems to better serve residents, Winn explained. A telephone emergency alert service, which will directly call residents and inform them of storm threats and evacuations, and a toll-free number residents can call to get situation reports during and after the storm.
A main consensus during the hearing was the seamless interoperability between the Tri-Command and the local civilian community.
Beaufort is very fortunate in enjoying a strong working relationship with Tri-Command, Winn explained. Through dedicated effort the community has achieved successful integration of emergency operations with all three bases.
“What I did learn today is that we are the exception here,” Lanham said. “Marine Corps Air Station and the Tri-Command area and our level of cooperation with the local government agencies here is something that I just assumed was normal, but it’s not. It’s the exception and most other military installations do not have this type of relationship and cooperative effort in work with the local governmental agencies, so that was a bit of a surprise. I’m very proud of our Marines and staff who have been able to put that together. It really says a lot for us here in Beaufort.”
“We’re moving along,” DeMint said. “I’m pretty proud of what we are doing in South Carolina to make sure we do everything we can to save lives and to save property.”