Horry emergency ops center can't handle a major hurricane. A new one won't be cheap

A new Emergency Operations Center could be build next to the J. Reuben Long Detention Center (pictured).
A new Emergency Operations Center could be build next to the J. Reuben Long Detention Center (pictured). Janet Blackmon-Morgan

During a major natural disasters, the base camp for first responders in Horry County is the M.L. Brown Public Safety building in Conway.

But that building, built in 1994, is not adequate to house public safety personnel, said Horry County Emergency Management Director Randy Webster. That's why Webster is trying to convince county council to fund a new Emergency Operations Center.

"When you’re asking folks to be in a facility to support this community and to respond to and recover from a natural disaster, it needs to be a facility that can support that function," Webster said. "So we need a facility that will withstand a Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane if it makes impact here. It’s like everything else when it comes to public safety issues, a lot of folks leave, and public safety stays."

The roads and other areas around the M.L. Brown buildings flooded during hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew.

"We couldn’t get into there or out of there during Joaquin and Matthew," Webster said. "Every time we have a major flood event like that, it impacts the Conway area and we see that problem."

Councilor Johnny Vaught said the M.L. Brown building is "an island unto itself" during a flood.

"Going where we will be going with, it is high land," Vaught said of the area around the county's J. Reuben Long Detention Center, where the new operations center would be built.

Preliminary designs show a two-story, 35,000-square-foot building next to the jail. Early estimates put the cost at between $24 million and $26 million. The new building would also house the county's 911 call center and host training and meetings.

The county already owns land near the detention center, and the land is high enough that flooding there has never been a problem.

"It’s not just hurricane, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, the whole thing we’re susceptible to," Webster said. "We need a facility that’s in a location that’s not impacted by those natural hazards as much as the one we have now."

The existing facility only has a small kitchen, and no place for responders to eat. It also doesn't have room for sleeping or showering.

"There would definitely be sleeping quarters built in with adequate shower facilities," Webster said. "The new one would have a kitchen facility where, if everything else was not working in the community, we would be able to provide food."

But right now, the county doesn't have the money to build it.

"We have bonding room right now but there’s nowhere in the budget to pay off the bond," said Vaught. "That’s what the problem is right now."

The county could issue bonds, but there's no money available to pay back the money until other bonds are paid off, Vaught said, adding that the county could issue bonds within the next couple of years for the project.

"Really if you look down the road, it’s going to be a while in design in all of that stuff so the timing will work out pretty well," Vaught said.

Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian