Director of the Department of Emergency Management Paul Matthews said, while his old offices got the job done, they didn’t help officials prepare Aiken County for disasters the way the Government Center does.
“What we’ve got here is state of the art,” Mathews said. “I’ll put this EOC up against any one in the state.”
The previous Emergency Operations Center was located in the old jail at the Sheriff’s Office on Hampton Avenue for nearly eight years. Matthews said his old office had a barred window and a sliding metal door.
Prior to operating out of the jail, the EOC was located in the chambers of the Old County Council Building on Richland Avenue. During their tenure, the Graniteville train wreck of 2005 occurred, which involved a 60-ton chlorine spill that killed nine people.
“We were in that facility during Graniteville,” Matthews said. “The bad part is, you had to plug in every phone in the ceiling, you had to set up the tables, you had to do everything. So of course, by the time you do that, you’re two hours into it and you’re two hours behind.”
Matthews said there were concerns from the Aiken County Sheriff’s Department over the safety of the building, which led to the EOC relocating to the old County Council Building until the Government Center was constructed on University Parkway.
Matthews said the new facility helps the department better prepare for a variety of disasters and disruptions they handle, from weather to serious traffic delays.
The EOC in the Government Center is newer, larger, and equipped with better technology to help Emergency Management prepare for any problems Aiken County might encounter. Matthews said he also bought five Weather Hawk stations on a federal grant, one of which is already installed on the roof of the building.
He said these ‘complete’ weather stations help better predict weather patterns and are connected to cell phone towers via wireless, which is how they upload their data and is accessible online.
Among their features, the complete weather stations can calculate windspeed, wind direction and can even help predict flooding in certain areas.
“When the rain hits the dome, it knows mathematically how big the rain drop is and how many times its hitting it,” Matthews said. “It calculates it mathematically to tell you. The neat thing about it is that it can tell when it’s frozen. It can tell the temperature of it, which helps when an ice storm pops up.”
Matthews hopes to also install these stations in areas like Monetta, Wagner, Beech Island, North Augusta and Graniteville.
“Weather is our primary threat,” Matthews said. He claimed that ice storms can be more damaging to Aiken than hurricanes, but the county plays a big role as an evacuation site.
“We’re the only state that goes through formal procedures every year to look at our shelters, to look at our partners,” Matthews said. “There’s no other state that does that. Florida doesn’t even do that.”
A new EOC and technology aren’t the only things responsible for making emergency operations run smoothly in Aiken. Matthews said that the people of Aiken County also play a significant role.
“I am a very fortunate emergency manager,” Matthews said. “You don’t go to many counties where the sheriff, and the city police chief, and the fire chiefs, and the emergency manager and everybody get along…Here we are very fortunate. We all get along.”
For more information on natural disasters and other emergencies, and how to prepare for them, visit scemd.org.