During crises and disasters, the Aiken County Emergency Management Division, or EMD, springs into action to coordinate the response and recovery efforts at the local level while working with other agencies and organizations.
EMD also makes plans for how to deal with dangerous situations caused by tornadoes, ice storms, tropical storms, hazardous material spills and even pandemics.
“This year early on – probably in March or in late February – we were told we were going to be getting some PPE (personal protective equipment) from the national stockpile,” said EMD Director Paul Matthews during a presentation to the Rotary Club of Aiken on Monday at Newberry Hall.
He showed a photo of a delivery to the Aiken County Government Center, where the Emergency Operations Center is located.
“To this date,” Matthews reported, the following have been distributed by EMD to health care workers and first responders in the county: 28,365 masks, 18,150 pairs of gloves, 13,846 surgical gowns, 180 gallons of hand sanitizer, 2,300 face shields and 18 containers of bleach wipes.
Aiken County also has a 50-bed mobile hospital that is available for use.
“It has its own HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system, lighting system and generator,” Matthews said. “You can do surgery in it and everything else.”
The county received the mobile hospital from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, or DHEC.
“It was bought with a grant, and certain counties around the state got them.” Matthews said.
He added that Aiken Regional Medical Centers has a team that can “put it (the mobile hospital) up.”
As part of EMD’s preparation for emergencies, it conducts an annual point of dispensing, or POD, training exercise. The most recent one was held in October at the Government Center, where flu shots were given to county employees.
“What DHEC has tried to do is at the bigger facilities like the hospitals, the Government Center and SRS (Savannah River Site) is to have closed PODs so they can take care of themselves and then that takes some stress off of DHEC.”
In a closed POD, vaccines or medication is given only to the people who work at or are otherwise associated with the facility.
When one or more vaccines for COVID-19 become available, Matthews doesn’t know if there will be a POD at the Government Center.
“One of the vaccines is super cold (has to kept in a very cold environment), and we don’t have the capability to store it,” Matthews said. “There is another vaccine that is supposed to just be refrigerated. The only issue is that they’ve added some other regulations on this for the COVID stuff that I’m not sure we are going to be able to meet.”
EMD has purchased a medical refrigerator with grant money that could be put into service if there is a COVID-19 vaccine POD at the Government Center.
“They (DHEC) have come to us and asked us to help their contractors set up to do the COVID testing,” Matthews said. “Our team has helped them do that.”