CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – State and local leaders participated in an annual hurricane lane reversal drill on Thursday, working to ensure a smooth evacuation should one be issued this season.

“Hurricane season has just begun and will continue on through November 30, so we want to make sure we’re prepared and make sure the public is prepared as well,” said Lance Cpl. Nick Pye with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

Employees with the South Carolina Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation were seen parked along I-26 during the day-long simulation.

Both sides of I-26 could be completely reversed, giving those living along the coast an easy and faster way of getting out of town if a hurricane threatens our area.

And more options will be offered this year for getting off the interstate than have been available to evacuees in the past.

“In the event that we have a full-scale hurricane reversal we have SLED, DNR protection, and parole, local agencies, throughout the state- it is an all-hands-on-deck. Pretty much everyone is focused on getting people to safety and getting people where they need to be.”

At the Berkeley County Emergency Preparedness office in Moncks Corner, leaders there are also preparing for a hurricane – making sure they are ready for impacts inland, not just along the coast.

“We still have a lot of threats due to the hurricane, especially straight-line winds, tornadoes, or even flooding from rainfall. Especially around the lakes and streams in the upper part of the county,” said Ben Almquist, Berkeley County Director of Emergency Management.

Berkeley County is working to install new weather stations in rural areas to gather accurate real-time data, and upgraded county facilities are going to help during the next emergency.

“The new Emergency Operations Center – now co-located with the 911 center – helps out with our communications tremendously. We’re centralized now in Berkeley County (with) the rest of the government agencies, so everybody is right here when we need them,” said Almquist.

If an evacuation order is issued by Governor Henry McMaster, emergency leaders say it’s best to heed the warning and head out of town.

“We think that this is the best scenario to get people out efficiently quickly and safely.”

The South Carolina Department of Transportation announced in 2020 an updated plan for reversing lanes on I-26, which includes beginning the reversal at a median crossover near the Nexton Parkway, exit 197, rather than I-526 like in past years. 

While SCDOT understands this shortens the length of the reversal by 15 miles, they say it is designed to reduce traffic impacts for the Charleston area and be easier for motorists to access the reversed side of I-26.

Those living in coastal communities should use this time to understand their hurricane evacuation zone and the route they would take should an order to leave be given during the season.

Lanes were not actually reversed during Thursday’s drill.