Congress will come to Clemson University next week when Rep. Jeff Duncan and his Homeland Security subcommittee hold a hearing about whether South Carolina and the nation are better prepared for major emergencies like hurricanes and disease outbreaks.
The Nov. 21 hearing (1 p.m., at Tillman Hall) will include local, state and federal officials testifying about how emergency preparedness has changed since Hurricane Hugo hit the state 25 years ago.
Congressional committees sometimes conduct field hearings outside of Washington where they focus on local issues and hear from local experts. Duncan, R-Laurens, is chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“It’s important to get outside of this DC bubble,” Duncan said Thursday. “We need to hear a fresh perspective from the people who interact with the federal government through FEMA.”
The witness list includes officials from FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston Jr., adjutant general of the South Carolina National Guard; Kim Stenson, director of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division; and Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper.
Hurricane Hugo was a Category 4 storm when it hit near Charleston at midnight on Sept. 22, 1989. The damage left 60,000 people in South Carolina, the state homeless. About 270,000 were temporarily unemployed and 54,000 sought disaster assistance. The storm killed 49 people in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
A likely topic is how Hurricane Hugo helped change evacuation policies. Now, residents can be ordered to leave their homes days rather than hours before a storm reaches land.
“In South Carolina and the nation, we’ve learned a lot about evacuations,” Duncan said. “That’s what I’m going for, is to hear from the people who have the plans and make sure they have the plans.”
Duncan said he hopes state and local officials will share not only improvements in emergency management, but concerns about possible weaknesses in the system.
“Agencies that rely on the federal government for grants are sometimes hesitant, but as a policymaker I need them to twist the tail, tell the truth and be revealing with any conflicts or problems,” Duncan said. “Is there something we need to know about?”
A second panel of witnesses will include researchers and administrators from Rutgers University, Clemson University and Savannah State University, plus an official with the Salvation Army.