First responders never know what lies ahead of them for their day. It could be routine…or it could be a deadly tornado that touched down just outside of the Westin Hotel and tore through the Glenwood community leaving homes in splinters and people dead, injured and dazed.
The latter happened yesterday morning at 8:15am–sort of.
Each year, the City undergoes a training exercise to prepare to be surprised. This year, Director of the Office of Emergency Management, Kevin J. Simmons wanted to “challenge the City like it has never been challenged before.” His idea was to stage a no-warning event. The City would not have the luxury of seeing a hurricane develop and come up the east coast. They would not have a fire that started small and eventually grew to envelop Main Street. The only warning the first responders would have was when the alarm was sounded.
Observers were in place to observe the operation and offer critiques of all City Departments who participated. Wrenches were thrown into the works by actors who were playing roles and challenging the police, fire, EMS, public works, and transportation employees who all came together to handle the crisis.
Initially, an ambulance, a squad car, and an engine responded and realized they needed more assistance (which was not available). The small crew needed to asses the situation and gain control until more resources could be brought to the scene. Eventually, the City’s mobile Command Center arrived and Battalion Chief Kelly Martin assumed command of the incident. The incident, and all updates, were simultaneously being observed and managed by the City’s crisis teams in the Emergency Command Center in the basement of the police station. Newly homeless residents were transported to the Roger “Pip” Moyer Recreation Center on Hilltop Lane–the City’s designated shelter.
Other players in the drill included the Anne Arundel Medical Center who received a large number of casualties. This was to evaluate their ability to handle large incidents such as this. Anne Arundel County also responded with their Ambo-Bus to transport the seriously injured. The Red Cross was on hand as well as the national Guard if needed.
Mayor Cohen was out of town and Alderman Ian Pfeiffer was the Acting Mayor who was required to sign an emergency declaration and order a curfew for the City. The Acting Mayor and the City Spokesman, Rhonda Wardlaw, responded to the scene to asses the damage, and to keep the media informed of what was happening.
While most people assume that this is a police, fire, EMS type of situation, it quickly became obvious that it was far more reaching. In fact, every department had a critical role to play. The Mayor’s Office manned the emergency phone lines and routed calls accordingly. Finance was concerned with making sure expenses were tracked for possible reimbursement from the County, State, or Federal level. Transportation was concerned with moving citizens (injured and uninjured) to the shelter as well as keeping transportation running elsewhere in the City. Public Works was heavily involved with Recreation and Parks to make sure that roads were clear for first responders and emergencies. DNEP was assessing the damage to buildings and the infrastructure. The Law Office was on hand to make sure that any actions ordered by the Mayor were indeed legal and that he or she had the authority. In looking around the EOC, there was not a single City Department not represented.
While some may say this is a waste of resources, it is a very valuable tool that emergency personnel can use to perform their job better when an actual emergency strikes. Officer Chuck Parker learned that first hand. He was the responding officer and needed to keep the public away from the victims and establish a secure perimeter. Initially it proved easy, but he soon discovered there was more to it. I was able to duck behind a fire engine and walk up to the victims and speak with them–the media, including Patch, WNAV, and The Baltimore Sun were also “players”. While trying to corral a duo of relatives, Officer Parker realized there was a more serious issue with me being so close to the scene.
Eventually, the victims all were able to wash off their wounds and finish their day after a few slices of Ledo Pizza provided by the City. However, the work of the City is just beginning. Chief Simmons and his team will evaluate the incident and make a full report detailing what went well…what went wrong…and what needs to change. While we can never be prepared for everything, Police Chief Michael Pristoop summed it up when he said we can’t be prepared for everything, “but we can certainly have a leg up.”
As for my personal suggestion—next time, have an out of area colleague develop the scenario so everyone is surprised. Give them the time and date and four potential locations for the drill and give them the authority to throw in the “wrenches” as needed.