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– by Tiffani Ireland –
Edgefield County’s new Emergency Operations Center, located in the old Agricultural Building on Gray Street in Edgefield, is a far cry from the tiny, one room office space that used to house the county’s Emergency Management Agency. During The Advertiser’s recent tour of the new facility, guided by EMA Director Mike Casey and Deputy Director, Sandy Backensto, Ms. Backensto shared how in the old office, she did not even have room to completely push her chair away from her desk because the room was so small. However, the new EOC boasts three rooms; a conference room, which can serve as a command central in the event of an emergency, and an office each for Casey and Backensto.
The facility is not only a lot bigger, it also comes equipped with some state-of-the-art technology including a satellite phone and the center’s own stand alone radio system. The conference room is furnished with a large table, a white board, maps, and ample room to maneuver about. And while the center’s technology and furnishing may be impressive, what might be the most amazing thing about the new facility is that is was completely paid for using grant money and by “re-purposing” old equipment. Showing off some of the new fixtures of the facility, Mr. Casey shared, “We got $10,000 worth of furniture for $700.”
Along with the technology and new furniture, the new site also houses a bookcase filled with extra large binders full of plans, policies, and procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency. However, as Mr. Casey reminded The Advertiser, “A plan is only as good as the people who are going to implement the plan.”
Casey and Backensto each bring a wealth of passion, commitment, and experience to that endeavor. Mr. Casey has been in his position with EMA “since Hugo,” and Ms. Backensto has served the county in her role for nearly 7 years now. However, the two say to continue to properly implement emergency plans and best serve the community in the event of a disaster, what the EOC needs now are more trained and dedicated volunteers. Additionally, volunteers need to be trained before an emergency strikes. The two related how, particularly after an emergency, volunteers will line up to become trained but will loose interest quickly if another emergency is not soon on the horizon. The key to qualified personnel, according to the pair, is training, dependability, and commitment. Casey and Backensto are hopeful to add a few more individuals with such qualities to the county’s new EOC; just another enhancement to an already impressive new facility.