Today, it took me 2 hours and 45 minutes to drive from my home near Quiet Waters Park to the Naval Academy and back.
A while back, Annapolis Mayor Michael Pantelides talked about a plan that the City has to evacuate people in case of an emergency. He spoke of this plan after several accidents closed Forest Drive and the City failed miserably at even making an attempt to ease the traffic congestion. I think I found the plan?
All kidding aside, the Mayor swears that the City of Annapolis and their Office of Emergency Management has a plan in case of emergency. And after yet another traffic fiasco this afternoon, it is time for the City to put up or shut up. Publish the plan.
This afternoon, there was a serious accident on Forest Drive in front of Annapolis Middle School. As it was, this week (and upcoming weekend) has been challenging with an additional 10,000 people in town for Commissioning Week and it being Memorial Day weekend. Oh, and today is one of the ten worst days for travel! So, where was the plan?
We were assured that it existed when a car took down a telephone pole last year. In fact, we hear about this mythical plan after every accident along Forest Drive. So why can’t the City and the Annapolis Police Department get it right? Even once?
We all know that we only have two arterials on the Annapolis Neck peninsula–Forest and Tyler/Hilltop. So when one is shut down, traffic should flow to the other. So why can’t the police station officers to direct traffic instead of allowing traffic lights to do the work. After all, traffic lights are designed to work under pre-programmed conditions. Where was the officer at Bay Ridge and Tyler that caused a back up into Hillsmere? Where was the officer directing traffic at the other end–Forest and Hilltop? Where was the officer at Hilltop and Spa? Chinquapin and Old Forest? Forest/665 and Chinquapin? Doesn’t it make sense to identify your choke points and plan to staff them accordingly?
According to the 2014 Annual Report (last one available online) there are 119 sworn police officers in the City of Annapolis. Recently, Police Chief Pristoop said that there were 109 officers. With three shifts, that is about 36 officers per shift. So, why can’t the city handle the accident investigation and traffic control?
EDIT: Some messaged me saying that I did not account for weekend and that is true. Another way of looking at the math is to take the total number of hours in a week (168) that need coverage. 109 officers each working 40 hours per week is 4,360 officer hours per week available to work. 4,360 divided by 168 is 25.95 officers per shift. It was also pointed out that other officers are not assigned traffic duty. My argument is that in an emergency traffic situation like this, ALL officers are on traffic duty. If they need to respond to another call for service, then they do so. It should not be beneath the Chief of Police or a Sergeant, or a Detective to put on a reflective vest and direct traffic for a few hours.
The police department responded with an answer–the officers were needed to process the scene and block the immediate streets and remain able to respond to other calls in the city. Of course they need to be available to take other calls, but that does not mean they cannot direct traffic until a call is received. And with 36 officers per shift (and this accident did occur during a shift change so there likely were more officers available), why could they not direct traffic at the 4 or 5 choke points? Does it take 30 officers to investigate a crash and block off the scene? And in their update, the department said that they only had a “handful” of officers available. Pardon me but WTF? We have 10,000 more people in town than normal on a Holiday weekend and we only have a handful of officers? Who in their right mind made up that schedule? Did Commissioning Week and Memorial Day just sneak up on us this year?
The Mayor likes to say he works so well with the County, but there were no County cops around either. County Councilman Chris Trumbauer saw the trouble in Annapolis and called Anne Arundel County Chief Tim Altomare asking for help. The County was tied up with several other serious accidents and could not assist.
For argument’s sake, let’s say for some reason it actually makes sense to have a “handful” of officers on the street on the busiest travel day of the year. Were calls placed to any of the other law enforcement agencies that are in town for assistance? Anne Arundel County Sheriff? DGS Capitol Police? GSA Police from the USNA? Maryland State Police–they have a barracks right here in town?
Let’s face it…if a hurricane or tornado comes at the Annapolis Neck peninsula, we all might as well kiss or asses goodbye. Quite simply there is no plan. It is not unreasonable to think a tree would come down in a hurricane and block a road forcing an alternate escape route. Will the answer be to park a cop car in front of the tree so no one hits it? When it comes to handling traffic emergencies, it appears that the city just wings it. Maybe we will all forget about this when the election rolls around again–I am sure Mayor Pantelides is hoping we will.
So, what do you do in an emergency and you need to get off of the peninsula? Buy a boat and sail off? Make friends with someone that owns a boat? I’m not sure. But at least I am in good company–the City doesn’t know either!