Lexington County disaster center gets A+ in first test

tflach@thestate.comJanuary 29, 2014 

This week's snow storm is one of the first live tests of the new Lexington County emergency operations center. With its high-tech monitors , officials can keep tabs on the weather, their equipment, road conditions, etc. The center opened last fall.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

— A center designed to improve Lexington County’s response to storms and disasters aced its first test Wednesday.

State-of-the-art technology enabled county officials to see problems that snow and ice created, particularly for motorists, and cope better with weather-related issues.

Public safety officials kept track of developments through big-screen communications featuring conditions across the 720-square-mile county.

Those screens kept track of the location of snow removal equipment overnight and let officials gauge calls for help to see whether changes were needed in plans for handling the storm.

“It’s exceeded our expectations,” county public safety director David Kerr said. “The more data we have, the better we can tailor service.”

The storm was the first time county officials put the facility into use since it opened last fall.

“It always stands ready,” said county administrator Joe Mergo, who oversaw development of the $12 million center.

Mergo stayed up all night with emergency response officials at the center to help analyze conditions and to weigh decisions such as delaying trash pickup in some areas until Thursday and helping school officials choose to close classrooms Wednesday.

A dozen officials involved in law enforcement, firefighting, medical care, public works and other services huddled periodically at the center overnight during the snow storm to review conditions and settle on tactics.

All went home to rest a few hours and returned for a second watch late Wednesday. Cots and showers are available if desired at the training center for firefighters nearby.

The 15,000-square-foot center replaced a makeshift temporary facility that took more than four hours to set up, with the 911 call response team moved in from another site to allow for instant consultation and analysis.

It sits in a complex of county facilities two miles west of Lexington with a purposely nondescript appearance. Surrounded by a security fence, admission is limited to employees and officials who oversee disaster response.

The center is equipped to withstand Mother Nature’s worst, especially hurricanes and tornados, which would be a stronger challenge than snow and ice.

“It’s the elite of emergency operation centers in the state,” County Council chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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