Each year, the Lowcountry braces for hurricane season. Extending from June 1st to November 30th and peaking in September, hurricane season is unpredictable and anxiety inducing. This year, the first, and hopefully only, hurricane to cause that feeling in Charleston was Hurricane Dorian.
Hurricane Dorian built up power over several weeks, slowly inching its way across the Atlantic Ocean. The storm devastated the Bahamas as a category 5 storm, causing indescribable damage. It then eyed the east coast of the United States. Models projected a wide-variety of paths, but the consensus was that it would slide by the coast of South Carolina by mere miles, but not actually make landfall. After a harrowing day in Charleston, this prediction did come true and the region was blessed by a near miss.
Even though there wasn’t much of an impact in the area, the Charleston District was braced and ready to respond if there was. The District had assets staged in the emergency operations center at the St. Stephen Powerhouse, the State EOC in Columbia, and liaison officers up and down the coast.
“The team was quickly postured,” said Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, USACE South Atlantic Division commander. “Gov. Henry McMaster and other state officials sought me out to tell me that they appreciated the proactive support of the District. I continue to be very proud of the Charleston team.”
The District’s emergency management team was tracking the storm and internal assets for weeks before Dorian’s arrival. As with all pre-storm preparations, communication with other local, state and federal agencies was key to making sure that everyone is prepared to respond as soon as the storm passes.
“Everything we do in USACE requires strong relationships with partners,” said Holland. “These relationships facilitated a quicker response. This year, the same people came together as Dorian skirted our entire Atlantic coastline. We didn’t need to spend time building relationships. Together, we were ready for anything!”
USACE SAD Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas Padgett echoed similar thoughts about partnership. In his role, he is focused on mission accomplishment and the welfare of the workforce, so he saw many new partnerships, but also saw the effectiveness of established relationships formed through months and years of preparation.
“[Our USACE districts] have made a concentrated effort, whether it’s through routine engagements or community outreach events, to be known as trusted partners,” said Padgett. “Trust among partners is essential to mission success.”
Both Holland and Padgett commended the Charleston District and the other four USACE districts in the South Atlantic Division, but caution that, just because the area dodged a bullet with Dorian, the work is not done.
“We must continue to plan and become better each day in preparation for any mission the nation may call upon us to complete,” said Padgett. “Hurricane Dorian response efforts are indicative that together we are “Working Today to Build a Better Tomorrow.”
The Charleston District is looking back at Hurricane Dorian planning and response as a “practice run” for the next time a storm impacts our region. This valuable practice and knowledge will help everyone involved to continue to be more prepared each season.