CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) – Horry County is beginning a multimillion dollar project to help crews respond to any emergency.
The county broke ground Thursday on a new $16 million emergency operations center, which will be located off Industrial Park Road, right next to J. Reuben long Detention Center in Conway.
“We have been long overdue for another [Hurricane] Hugo and some of us who were around then remember that,” said Al Allen, a member of Horry County Council member representing Aynor.
The county spent about a decade trying to secure the funding for a new EOC. Work is finally beginning on the 43,000-square-foot building that many county leaders say is desperately needed.
Plenty of hurricanes hit the Grand Strand, so the county needs to be especially prepared for emergencies.
“It will serve this community for 40, 50, 60 years,” said Randy Webster, an assistant county administrator who oversees public safety.
The two-story building will have expanded space for the county’s emergency department, along with upgraded communications technology. The new EOC will also be in a less flood-prone area than the current facility it shares with the Horry County Police Department.
The county says the building is supposed to withstand 160 mph winds, which are consistent with a Category 5 hurricane. The strength of the current EOC was especially a concern before Hurricane Florence in 2018, but the storm’s winds weakened to Category 1 strength before landfall.
The new EOC will also have what emergency crews need when working several days without going home.
“We’ll be able to sustain the staff that’s there for at least three days, if not longer, no matter what, so that’s a good thing,” Webster said. “Showers [and] restroom facilities, we have all of that built in now. We have not had the ability to properly feed everybody with kitchen space or dining room space. We’ve even lost communications in the M.L. Brown building during Hurricane Matthew [in 2016].”
The new EOC will also have significant upgrades for E911 dispatchers.
“We’ll have more consoles than we have today,” said Renee Hardwick, who’s the county’s E911 director. “We’re about to max out on our space that we’re using, so we’ll be able to have more staff, hopefully, to be able to do that. It’ll reduce the congestion on some of our radio channels with our police, fire and EMS folks.”
County council chair Johnny Gardner says it will be especially helpful to have all emergency leaders and coordinators in one state-of-the-art facility.
“This will be the most critical facility that we’ll have or infrastructure that we’ll have in the county,” Gardner said.
Construction is expected to take about 16 months and be finished by spring 2022.