This Thursday morning in September is like most weekday mornings at Williamsburg County Magnet School of the Arts. A class of elementary school students is in the gym doing stretches and playing games with foam balls and plastic cones. But on this particular day, men wearing U.S. Army uniforms, reflective vests and hard hats are also entering the gym.
This particular group is made up of members of the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) from Fort Bragg, N.C., and the Charleston District’s Emergency Management Division. This school is just one of 182 sites throughout South Carolina that are being inspected in a week by the 249th that have been designated as places of assistance during emergencies or natural disasters.
On this morning, the 249th is inspecting a school that could be used as a shelter if an emergency or natural disaster came through the area. During their inspections, they check the electrical capabilities of the facility in order to know exactly what capacity of generator would be needed if the facility lost power. That way, the appropriate generator can be brought immediately following a disaster instead of having to conduct an inspection in the middle of the relief effort. This gets the essential facility back up and running quicker so that it can function in its designated critical role.
“We help states with pre-disaster response, but this was also training for us for our role in the National Response Framework,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sean Martin of the 249th. “Our unit has teams ready to respond within two hours of a disaster notification, so this keeps us up on our training.”
The 249th does work for all Corps districts and has responded to tsunamis, earthquakes, ice storms, hurricanes and more around the world and even responded to New York City and Washington, D.C., after the September 11th attacks. Bravo Company 249th is regionally aligned with the Corps’ South Atlantic Division and is working to build partnerships with SAD districts, such as Charleston, before a disaster strikes.
Teaming up with the 249th is just one of the many ways the Charleston District is remaining vigilant throughout hurricane season. By conducting these inspections now, and doing other preparation activities such as mock hurricane exercises throughout the state, District personnel are ready and capable of responding immediately in case of a disaster.
“The 249th is one of the principle proponents for providing emergency power, which is a typical mission we receive from FEMA for emergency response,” said Gilbert Dent, Charleston District chief of emergency management. “This effort of pre-assessments will allow us to more-expeditiously provide power to facilities and gives us a heads up to execute the mission if we are called upon.”
Other facilities being inspected by the 249th include schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities, fire stations and other sites designated by local governments as critical public facilities.