HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — When Category 1 Hurricane Ian made landfall on the South Carolina coast a year ago, Horry County was still a few months away from opening its $24 million emergency operations center.

As the storm rolled in, the county’s emergency management team continued working in the M.L. Brown Jr. Public Safety Facility in Conway, a building they shared with police, fire and other teams.

The new Randall S. Webster emergency operations and communications center opened in February and was put to use for the first time in a real emergency during Tropical Storm Idalia in early September.

County officials said the building is one of the most state-of-the-art emergency operations centers on the East Coast and has already helped county officials prepare and manage things more efficiently.

A lot of planning went into the facility, according to Sam Hodge, the director of emergency management for Horry County.

“It was many years of thought and process and going through after-action reports from past hurricanes and wildfires and tornado events and, you know, the key is that the process when it came to putting this facility together, they listened to those that sat in these chairs that are all around me here,” Hodge said. “What do you want? What do you need? What will make it better? And all that was rolled into this facility.”

Officials said the building was only partially activated during Idalia but that even that made a big difference.

“It has things that M. L. Brown didn’t have, and I think that was a key for the staff that comes here, some of our partners out there, our law enforcement, our fire EMS, along with our other state partners that help in our sheltering efforts,” Hodge said.

How did the center fare during Idalia?

“It did pass the test,” he said. “We really need a little storm out there to kind of test the systems down here, test the technology, and that’s exactly what we were allowed to do.”  

Hodge said it is hard to prepare for a storm because no two storms are the same. However, he said now that the new center is up and running, it’s easier to prepare for all types of emergencies.

“Every storm is different,” he said. “What do we learn from one storm to the other? They’re all different. They all are their own different little animals there.” 

There was another benefit to having the center activated during Idalia, Hodge said. After Idalia, the people who work in the center got to make suggestions about what they would change.

The most common request, he said, was a freezer that would hold more ice cream. One has been ordered and will be available the next time the center is activated.

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Taylor Maresca is the weekend morning anchor and morning reporter at News13. She joined the team in June 2022 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Taylor is from Houston. Follow Taylor on X, formerly Twitter, and read more of her work here.