RIEGELWOOD -- It's been almost a year since a tornado touched down in Columbus County, claiming the lives of eight people -- some of which were children. Since the tragedy emergency response officials have worked to improve how they handle disasters. The Columbus County sheriff has been working to get radios, to allow local fire, EMS and law enforcement officers to communicate with each other. Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten said, "The radios are in Raleigh, we just have to go and pick them up and get our frequencies installed into them and then have some training on how to use these hand held frequencies." Not only are Columbus County officials requesting better radio communication, Riegelwood rescue responders are also in need of mass casualty medical equipment. Acting Rescue Chief Donna Hammond said, "There could have been 100 injured, it could have been the school, to have more equipment available readily and we're working on that." Morgan says dealing with traffic during the disaster was another big issue. "Once people started hearing about what happened they tried to get into there to check on their family, and for some of us it was a little difficult to get to the site," Hammond said. The problems mentioned though pale in comparison with what emergency officials did right. "We had an immediate response. Almost everyone in our department was there very rapidly. The assistance we got from mutual aid, some of them came before they were even called," Hammond said. "I don't know that we would [do anything differently]. I think my guys did the best job that they could," Batten said. The Columbus County Sheriff's Office is also getting nine new radios for better communication. The sheriff says he did learn a lesson from last year's tragedy and that is how important communication is. To help with that problem the Columbus County sheriff's office is also getting nine new radios in addition to the radios used to communicate with other agencies.
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