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South Carolina Search and Rescue Team Says Need More State Funding For Disaster Response

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – If local first responders are overwhelmed by an emergency or disaster, they call the South Carolina Urban Search and Rescue Team.

But that team said they are looking for money to keep their operations going every year.

“We’re funding it as best we can, and it’s just not enough, both operationally and equipment wise,” Fire Marshal Jonathan Jones told members of the Army last week. Senate Committee on Labor, Commerce and Industry.

South Carolina’s urban search and rescue system has relied on one-time allocations in the state budget – including $ 153,000 in 2019 and $ 850,000 in 2020 – as well as money from the office of the State Fire Marshal and South Carolina Fire Academy budgets to operate annually.

Now the team will ask state lawmakers for a recurring allocation of $ 1 million, via a request in the budget of the Ministry of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Jones said the money would go to Task Force I, which can conduct large-scale structural collapse and disaster trade missions, HART, the helicopter water rescue team and firefighters’ mobilization.

The state is also supporting five regional search and rescue teams, which Jones says can respond to incidents of small to medium-sized structural collapse and search missions over large areas and are based in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head / Bluffton, Columbia and Greenville. However, the training and equipping of these teams is the responsibility of the local fire departments that host them.

“It’s the firefighters from the local fire departments that make up this program, and they must have and require the equipment to continue doing this job,” said Charlie King, executive director of the State Firefighters Association. from South Carolina.

South Carolina has the only team for hundreds of miles capable of responding to large-scale search and rescue operations, such as major hurricanes or building collapses, like the Surfside condo in Florida, according to Jones. He said if these types of disasters were to occur in South Carolina and were large enough to require additional help, the next closest help would come from Virginia Beach, Memphis or Miami and take days to arrive.

“We have to keep these teams strong because more help is still a long way off,” Jones said.

Regarding the possibility of responding to a large man-made disaster, like the collapse of a Surfside condo, Jones said they currently have the capacity to do so, but not the capacity.

“The ability is that we have the expertise, we have the equipment, we have the trained personnel who can step in within the first 72 hours, which is really the time when lives would be saved. What we lack is the capacity – in other words, the numbers, ”he said.

In the meantime, Jones says some equipment is between 15 and 20 years old, and in many cases worn and obsolete, but would cost millions of dollars to replace everything.

But he said they would rather replace the old equipment in an ongoing process rather than all at once, which would lead to that equipment eventually going obsolete around the same time.

“We need to invest in our state resources,” Jones said. “We have to be able to maintain it – the maintenance, replacement, training, personal protective equipment, the personnel themselves – in order to maintain our capabilities in the state and provide that initial response during the 72 first hours. “

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