Monday, Sept. 11, was no typical day for Billy Staley as the remnants of Hurricane Irma entered The T&D Region.
But when you’re the Orangeburg County Emergency Services director, is there really any such thing as a typical day?
And as Staley pointed out, it’s not just about that day. It’s also about the preceding days and weeks of meetings and preparation, and the months, sometimes years, of recovery afterward. And it’s not just about his day at work, it’s also about the staff of his department and others.
“This is not a one-person job. This is a team effort from ... the county employees, my department and the state and in the private sector,” he said.
And it’s not a regular 9-to-5 job.
“Typically, we’re in the office by 8:30 in the morning,” Staley said. “But our job, what we do, we’re on call 24-7.”
“So we may be out in the middle of the night, depending on what’s going on and what type of event,” he said. “When we have disaster operations, we’re 24-7.”
Even on a regular day, situations can be out of the ordinary.
“On a typical day, we do respond to emergency calls for vehicle accidents where we have people trapped in cars, and for chemical spills” and other emergencies, Staley said.
“But also on a typical day, we do emergency planning, meeting with our partners,” he said. “We’re meeting with the state ... state Emergency Management Division, State Law Enforcement Division, state Highway Patrol, DHEC. And all the way down to our county partners, Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, everyone in the state around us.”
The purpose of all the meetings is to look at the long-term picture, Staley said.
“When we meet, we’re planning for those events like we had with Irma,” he said.
“Every disaster is different, and not every disaster is the same,” he said. “When the storms come, the process in our office changes because we’re dealing with the response from the storm when the storm gets here. And we’re dealing with the planning for the storms.”
“And we spend months, years afterward trying to mitigate the storm, trying to recover and trying to (figure out) ‘What can we do to change this in the community where it’s not as bad next time,’ whether it’s flood mitigation, building code enhancement,” Staley said.
“Our response in the county is very broad. And we have plans for all of that,” he said.
Staley said that it’s hard to pinpoint one best experience of his job because of the scope of what he and his staff do.
But he said the best thing is “when you go out and you see someone get the assistance they need. Or you get a phone call that this is a critical situation that we need to resolve, and you know that by ... us getting involved that 700 people just got their power back on.”
It can be “as simple as getting a volunteer organization to go put a tarp on someone’s house and hearing them say ‘thank you for all you do,’” Staley said.
Likewise, he said his worst experiences “are the calls that we just can’t help. We get the calls from people struggling with this part of FEMA reimbursement or people trying to get this assistance.”
Sometimes, his department is unable to assist, Staley said.
“There’s no one to fill that void that they need help with,” he said. “That’s a challenge.”
“We try our best to coordinate as much as we can and get as many volunteer agencies here, but it’s 100 percent about the volunteer agencies – the Baptist Association, the Red Cross, the United Methodists. Those are the agencies that really recover a community, in conjunction with FEMA.”
Staley, 46, has been with the Office of Emergency Services since 1997, first as assistant director and becoming director in 2012. A Bowman native, he graduated from Bowman High School. He is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in emergency management at Voorhees College. He and his wife, Tammy, have been married for 24 years.
When he’s not working, Staley likes to spend time on Lake Marion on his pontoon boat.
“I love to go on the lake. That’s my favorite pastime,” he said. “Not much into fishing, but I just love to boat on the lake.”