Letters to the Editor

Storm Center Ready

More than two years ago, Charlie Thrash, on the board of directors of the Coastal South Carolina Chapter of the American Red Cross, told Chief Executive Angela Nicholas that the chapter should plan for an emergency operations center. Nicholas at the time wondered how in the world a center could be built, but Thrash persisted.

"He saw the need; he had the vision," Nicholas says of Thrash, a retired Air Force officer. He suggested going to the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority, which provided a $308,000 grant to construct a 1,768-square-foot addition to the Red Cross building on the former base. Last week, the new emergency operations center was formally dedicated. It is a "convertible" EOC, Nicholas says, because it provides a disaster volunteer training center that doubles, to 30, the number of people who can be trained at the same time.

The new center is special in several ways, constructed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, winds of 111 to 130 mph. The center has 14-inch reinforced concrete block walls (no windows) and metal roof frame for stability and strength. Other construction features include steel doors and frames, a raised floor for communications cables, a secure room with separate cooling system for telephone and computer equipment, split system heat pumps and dual heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and a diesel generator for backup electricity.

The center has 20 work stations with connections for computers and telephones; wireless Internet capability; multiple televisions for monitoring local, national and weather reports; two PowerPoint projectors, mounted in a suspended ceiling, and screens; toilets and showers. "If we had a hurricane today, the EOC would be up and operational," Nicholas says. "We need some [additional] phones and computers" to have the center fully equipped, and she is seeking grant funds. The final cost of the building addition was $314,000, and fully furnished, the grand total will be $350,000.

Nicholas and chapter directors were pleased that 140 people attended the dedication last week, showing interest in seeing the new center and in the Red Cross in general. In addition to the Redevelopment Authority grant, four professional firms donated full design and engineering services: Usry Wolfe Peterson Doyle Architecture Inc.; Rast Dallery Engineers, PC; Kyzer and Timmerman Structural Engineers; and Thomas and Hutton Engineering Co. We commend these firms and the several additional donors recognized at the dedication ceremony. Paul Whitten, Horry County assistant administrator for public safety, says the center is critical to the response to a disaster. "The Red Cross plays a very critical role - taking care of people. I think it's a tremendous thing."

The EOC is a terrific enhancement to the service area of the Red Cross Coastal South Carolina Chapter, which includes Georgetown, Horry and Williamsburg counties. September was a fitting month for the center's dedication, being National Preparedness Month and the peak of hurricane season.