Note: “One of The Best Things in Richland County This Week” is an occasional series from the Public Information Office highlighting County department-related human interest stories that make a difference in our community.
Richland County officials used a combination of new technology and old-fashioned hard work to ensure this week’s winter storm, which walloped much of the state, did not deliver a crippling blow to County residents.
The combined efforts of Richland County’s Emergency Services and Public Works departments helped to minimize the effect of snow and ice on roadways and ensure emergency officials could respond to residents amid a crisis.
Information and analysis from the County’s chief meteorologist Ken Aucoin and data from the Richland County Weather Information Network Data Systems (RC WINDS) aided in developing the County's winter storm response, said Michael Byrd, Director of the Emergency Services Department.
“(It) really helped us do our best to keep the citizens as safe as possible,” Byrd said. “That coupled with the work of our public works department really helped us avoid the kind of problems that could have happened.”
RC WINDS is a network of 30 professional-grade weather stations placed strategically across Richland County over the past 18 months. Using the multiple reports that streamed in hourly from each weather station, County emergency planners were able to identify areas where roads were more prone to ice over and re-direct services as necessary.
“It was because of Ken’s expertise in weather forecasting and the data we were getting back from RC WINDS that allowed us to develop the best possible recommendations for Richland County,” Byrd said. “We were successful in making this winter storm a benign event because of the pre-planning that took place.”
Aucoin said data from the RC WINDS network, as well as partners such as the National Weather Service, the S.C. Emergency Management Division and all neighboring local governments, were key in helping school districts and governments make the decisions to close when they did.
Once the snow and ice accumulated, the County mobilized its ground attack. Working in collaboration with the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT), the public works department helped keep roadways clear for residents traveling late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
“Recognition really should go to the entire staff for their performance because they worked so hard and truly put the citizens first,” said David Hoops, Director of the Public Works Department.
“This year, for the first time, we worked in partnership with SCDOT and Richland County was the entity that provided the graders and support crews to plow Interstate 20 from Bush River Road out to Alpine Road with SCDOT supervising,” Hoops said.
Prior to the I-20 plowing, public works officials also broadened their use of spraying calcium chloride at public buildings and County-maintained roads to prevent icing. The effort was critical to allowing public safety vehicles, such as fire engines and ambulances, to leave their stations and respond to emergencies.
“The I-20 plowing was a new experience for us, working on a high-speed highway during traffic at night,” Hoops said. “The SCDOT representative managing the work said our crew did an excellent job, and this service along with other tasks were performed without any accidents, injury or damaged to equipment.”