In South Carolina, the state Emergency Management Division (EMD) – a division of the Adjutant General’s Office – is the coordinating agency responsible for developing and leading the state’s disaster preparation, response, and recovery efforts. It does so through the administration of 15 Emergency Support Function (ESF) areas that cover everything from transportation, public health, law enforcement, and energy.
The energy component, designated ESF-12, is coordinated by ORS in South Carolina, with Santee Cooper a designated supporting agency. The lead person at ORS assigned to this critical function is Director of Safety, Transportation and Telecommunications Tom Allen.
”The agency’s involvement with the EMD program really accelerated with the winter storms of 2014,” Allen says. “There were 400,000 power outages in the state as a result of the storm and several hundred thousand were extended for weeks.”
The severity of the outages both in number and length led the ORS to overhaul its approach to its role with EMD.
“We established leadership internally and immediately put a plan together that included recruiting team members who could assist and then getting them trained,” Allen says. “The other big priority was to build relationships with anyone who could help us.”
“We contacted the regulated utilities to see what types of things they needed in a disaster -- ice storms, hurricanes, spills, and accidents are just a few -- and then non-regulated utilities like the municipalities and Santee Cooper. We also contacted the fuel providers, because in any emergency gasoline is very important both for preparation, such as helping with evacuations, and in recovery for trucks who are out repairing lines and need to know what stations have gas.
“The last group we approached were people who provide support to the efforts of energy restoration, like hotels, restaurant associations, tourism groups -- people who could help us communicate with responders in disasters to identify what places are open, where they can stay, and where they can eat. All of those relationships have turned out to be very beneficial through the years.”
There are two types of disasters, Allen says, those with notice and those without notice. Hurricanes, for instance, give planners plenty of notice. Spills, accidents or earthquakes do not.
During a hurricane or other event, the ORS is the agency responsible for tracking outages and restorations in real-time by county and provides support by coordinating with and assisting utilities and fuel providers. The ORS also coordinates with other ESF groups to help them with any of their requests.
During the year, the EMD stays prepared by running drills and simulations and ESF-12 is an active participant
Allen says the dedication on the part of volunteers at the ORS, who during emergencies will work long shifts away from their families and manage their own job responsibilities, is inspiring.
“I can’t say enough about how dedicated our volunteers at ORS are,” Allen says. “they’re ready at a moment’s notice to respond and stay until the emergency is over, however long that is.”