WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. – As historic flooding levels continue to plague the residents of South Carolina, more than 2,541 National Guard assets are working around the clock to aid residents and local agencies.
Among them are more than 500 Soldiers and Airmen from North Carolina, who arrived over the holiday weekend.
“This mobilization is unique to the National Guard because of our dual-mission purpose and authority,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk, adjutant general of North Carolina. “South Carolina is experiencing a magnitude of disaster similar to what North Carolina experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd. During that disaster other states responded to our calls for assistance. It is now our honor and obligation to reciprocate to our neighbors, fellow Americans in South Carolina.”
North Carolina Emergency Management personnel and resources along with the North Carolina National Guard will support South Carolina’s flood response and recovery in the areas of: logistics liaison and public information and staff support, provide hundreds of road barriers, civil air patrol aerial assessments and provide critical necessities like water, said a news release from the North Carolina Guard.
At this point in the recovery stage, it’s all about partnerships and building on relationships that have been cultivated over years of drills between agencies.
“Our mission is to save lives and protect property,” said Derrec Becker, public information officer for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. “We’re heavily reliant on our partners because we’re a very small agency normally, but we expand very quickly by bringing in our partnered agencies with the National Guard or any other state agency that would have a role in disaster response.”
When a disaster strikes, a lot of moving parts are necessary to enable the impacted area to respond accordingly. The Emergency Operations Center is the hub for all of the agencies involved. Here, they can send representatives to relay information out to their personnel, while also giving them the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process.There are more than four dozen agencies involved, said Becker. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and The Department of Transportation are represented, but some unconventional agencies are also present, such as the South Carolina Department of Administration. Normally, they keep state government operational, but here they are responsible for donations and volunteer management.“The key words are coordination and communication,” said Jacqueline Chandler, deputy external affairs officer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It’s so important that we’re all doing it together, as far as the response and recovery, and we’re supporting one another. When you bring everybody together with their assets and their resources, then the mission is that much stronger.”
Lt. Dan Maddock, Charleston County Sheriff’s Department marine patrol unit supervisor, explained that it’s hard to determine where the water is going to go exactly and whether it’s going to rise slowly or be rushing. He said the tide levels also come into play, and a situation that was expected to be mild can easily turn into a crisis. For those reasons, he said it has been beneficial having the National Guard available to help in emergency situations that may arise.
“They do it all,” said Maddock. “They’ve been manning road blocks, patrolling through communities looking for any flooded areas, delivering sandbags ... Ithink the citizens are relieved to know their National Guard is there for them.”
Maddock added that many of the residents in the Parkers Ferry area have lived in their homes for generations and some are not willing to leave their property behind. Having the National Guard available to deliver and set up sandbags to protect the homes has been an asset to the local community.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Stritch, A Company, 1-118th, added that the citizens have been very appreciative of the work done by the National Guard.
He described a situation where a resident’s home was completely surrounded by water and they could no longer let their pet outside in the yard, but the National Guard trucks were able to access his home and transport the resident to safety.
“They’re upset about the situation because there’s nothing they can do to stop it, but it’s been nothing but thank yous from the citizens,” said Stritch. “Everyone’s been very receptive of us in the community.”
National Guard Soldiers will continue to work in communities being affected by the floodwaters until the mission is done and residents can begin to return to their homes and start the recovery process. In the meantime, the work being done not only helps the residents, but also builds partnerships between the National Guard and local law enforcement.
Maddock said that it has been a crucial aspect that the South Carolina National Guard troops have been self-sustaining and able to provide resources that the county did not have.
“It has been a tremendous opportunity to work with our National Guard partners and see the variety of strengths they bring to the situation,” said Maddock. “We’re very thankful that the National Guard is prepared to help.”
The Joint Operations Center, housed in the same building, is where the National Guard does its coordination and decision-making during an activation.
When the Emergency Operations Center receives a request for military support, it gets submitted to the Joint Operations Center, where military personnel can receive details and communicate to the individual units that make the missions happen, said U.S. Army Maj. Jasper Varn, the deputy logistics operations officer, at the Joint Operations Center.
Earlier this year, agencies and the National Guard participated in Vigilant Guard ‘15 in Georgetown, South Carolina, a simulated disaster response exercise allowing first responders and agencies the opportunity to experience some of the practices that they’ve been using this week to communicate and execute missions with one-another.
“We train, we work with the county’s first responders, and those relationships are in place,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Cindi King, the public affairs officer for the state of South Carolina.
“Something like this flood is unprecedented, but the fact that we had trained, especially during Vigilant Guard in March, it really provided an opportunity to showcase those partnerships.”
Members of the South Carolina Emergency Management Team have been activated for 11 days and are working 12-hour shifts.“This flooding that we’re going through hit home for a lot of people,” said Becker. “They’re going through what we’re seeing a lot of survivors go through, but yet they’re still here, they’re still working, and they’re still serving the citizens of South Carolina.”