I remember Hurricane Hugo as vividly today, as the days and weeks that followed 25 years ago, Sept. 22. I was the operations manager in Columbia for the S.C. Electric and Gas Company and traditional “Citizen-Soldier” in the S.C. Army National Guard at the same time. After Hugo passed, I worked power restoration operations in Columbia. My role as a National Guard Company Commander complemented SCE&G efforts because the SCNG was supporting all power companies along with local governments. About a week later, after we finished in Columbia, we moved about 200 line crews to the coast to Folly Beach and McClellanville to continue these efforts. I left Barbara with our small children. She even went out and found the blown fuse that caused our neighborhood power to go out.
I remember the downed forests, stacked boats, and areas where houses were completely gone. When I recall those days, what jumps out to me is not the event itself, but what we as South Carolinians did when it was over. We looked out for one another. We didn’t wait for help, we helped each other. We didn’t see riots and looting, but instead we saw neighbors stepping in to see what they could do for their neighbors. We also ate a lot of BBQ, as folks didn’t want meat to go bad without electricity, so everyone cooked out on their grills.
Gov. Campbell and the local leaders made the right calls, in making sure the coast was evacuated. It saved lives. I think all of us look back and remember how people responded in their own way. We made sure everyone was Ok and then focused on recovery. One particular conversation I remember was on the Isle of Palms when I asked a guy about his house. He responded his house was in pretty good shape, it just wasn’t where he left it.
We are better equipped now in the S.C. National Guard than we were in 1989. We have much more lift capability with aviation assets and better engineer capabilities, to include water operations with a bridge company. We can cover areas until bridges can be repaired. Our command and control capabilities are much more robust. We have the ability to put the resources where they need to be using satellite imagery, streaming video, and with Soldiers sending us information through military and civilian communications. Our war-time missions have created that network approach that we used in Afghanistan which can be used here. We also have integrated our S.C Air National Guard into the response plans. They can set up a mobile air traffic control unit. This is important if a tower is taken out at an airport during a storm. This unit can set-up and assist in bringing in assets and resources from the air. It should be noted that the constant from Hugo to today, is the quality of our Guard members and their desire to serve their fellow South Carolinians.
As we go through hurricane response training exercises today, Hugo changed how we approach storms, how we position assets and what we do for evacuations. It changed the thought processes for all South Carolinians who were there. My concern is citizens that have moved in since Hugo and don’t know how devastating this storm was. There has been a lot of development in rural areas and along the coast since then and people may not have the experiences with hurricanes that some of us have seen firsthand. Evacuations early on will be critical if we have another storm like Hugo.
The power of the response to Hugo was that we recovered as South Carolinians. It grew from the citizen taking care of their own, to the local government response, to the state being responsive. We depended on FEMA later on. Everyone took care of their neighbor. I saw that in every level of response. We may be better equipped and ready today than we were during Hugo, but in the final analysis, it is truly people that make the difference. There is something about the culture of South Carolina that makes us so resilient.
– Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., The Adjutant General for S.C. During Hurricane Hugo, was Capt. Livingston, serving as Company Commander, Company A, 122nd Engineer Battalion, McCormick, S.C.