Commentary

Part III - Collaborative Efforts for Citywide Preparedness

by Catherine Feinman

Publisher note: Baltimore City is the 26th most populous city in the United States, comparable in size to cities such as Las Vegas, Nevada, and Boston, Massachusetts. DomPrep has had the distinct privilege to observe the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management during a ten-month project that goes behind the scenes of emergency management and public safety. Many other cities must prepare for similar incidents and special events, involving corresponding tasks and responsibilities. This is the third of a five-part series, each part addressing a different component of the emergency management process, and each component having the ability to overwhelm a city. Please send me a note and let me know if you find this subject matter reporting to be helpful.  –Martin Masiuk, Publisher, publisher@domprep.com

Read Part I – “Charm City’s” Team Baltimore

Read Part II – Addressing Community Needs & Vulnerable Populations

Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), which mandated the establishment of state/tribe emergency response commissions, which are responsible for coordinating activities for local emergency planning districts, and appointing local emergency planning committee (LEPC) advisors to enable communities to collaboratively plan for chemical emergencies that occur within their communities. In the 1980s and 1990s, southern Baltimore was home to many chemical companies that came together to: (a) share resources; (b) train, equip, and prepare personnel; and (c) develop incident plans. Although there are fewer chemical companies in existence today, people who live in these communities still have a right to know what chemicals are being stored and what risks may be posed to residents in these areas.

Around 2007, MOEM, which chairs the LEPC and organizes all of its activities, decided to expand the scope of the Baltimore City LEPC to include other areas of interest and additional community preparedness efforts beyond the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency. With a new Organization Chart (Note: Medical Reserve Corps now exists in Maryland, not in Baltimore City) and bylaws adopted in 2008, this platform for networking and preparing the city now reaches a much broader range of participants than just those required by law: hospitals, local media, chemical companies, fire department, and other government agencies. The Baltimore LEPC currently has 355 unique organizations and 692 general members.

Baltimore’s 13-member advisory committee conducts conference calls before the quarterly general meetings to determine the agenda, topics to discuss, and feedback from previous meetings. With strong representation from neighborhood associations, chemical companies, faith-based organizations, media corporations, community members, public-safety agencies, nongovernmental organizations, public and private partners, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and volunteer groups, the advisory committee leads each quarterly meeting of about 100 people and offers networking opportunities before an incident occurs. By the time an emergency arises, these participants already have valuable connections in the city and beyond.

To take full advantage of the time and encourage participants to attend, MOEM designs each meeting similar to a miniature conference, with time for networking, presentations on activities occurring throughout the city, and a panel session on a hot topic such as active shooters, hazmat incidents, and extreme weather events. The LEPC pushes information from MOEM to its partner agencies and organizations, but it also pulls valuable information from these partners. Meeting with those who do not work every day in the emergency preparedness community helps MOEM staff: (a) listen to the concerns of the participants; (b) understand what others in the city can provide during an emergency; and (c) define expectations and messaging tactics for the public.

In addition to the quarterly meetings, another LEPC requirement is to ensure that all participants have access to training opportunities. MOEM extends such invitations to all city residents and employees, when appropriate, for planned training opportunities. In turn, some property owners have been willing to donate the use their commercial buildings and other property for large full-scale exercises. One such full-scale exercise conducted on 16 July 2014 began as a discussion at an LEPC meeting with the Baltimore Water Taxi. The capsized water taxi exercise included representatives from most if not all of the city’s response agencies. Better communication between first responders and the Coast Guard, which use different radio frequencies, was possibly the biggest takeaway from that event.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency administers LEPCs in counties across the nation, some may exist primarily on paper, which does nothing to protect cities when incidents occur. The Baltimore LEPC has set a precedent to constantly interact with and meet many people in very different roles. Rather than shaking hands, then disappearing, MOEM strives to stay connected with Baltimore residents and employees through strong leadership and consistency with its LEPC meetings and trainings. Chi-poe Hsia, director of planning at MOEM, stated in an interview on 6 October 2014 that, “It’s great to know who to call outside of government agencies when something happens. And these partners appreciate the notice they receive from having that relationship with us.”

Credentials, Training & Exercises The Corporate Emergency Access System (CEAS), a nonprofit company based in New York, offers a program designed to reduce the economic impact on and facilitate recovery activities of businesses and the city as a whole following a disaster. The CEAS pre-incident credentialing program permits prescreened businesses to travel through restricted areas to rapidly access their facilities, assess damages, maintain core information systems, turn on back-up systems, meet regulatory obligations, secure or remove vital records and data, and perform other critical tasks following an emergency. 

The Baltimore business community, represented by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, shared information with MOEM about how the program is being used in New York City and expressed interest in implementing CEAS in Baltimore. MOEM partnered with CEAS in November 2009 to handle the city’s business credentialing process and regularly trains the Baltimore Police Department on scanning procedures for secureentification cards and access procedures for business employees with critical roles and responsibilities into specified restricted areas following a disaster. Currently, a couple hundred businesses in the city are registered, but MOEM plans to expand the program regionally or statewide through the Maryland Emergency Management Agency because not everyone who works in Baltimore lives in Baltimore, which has deterred some companies from registering.

Each year, MOEM coordinates an interagency program of trainings and exercises targeted to an audience from all over the region to enhance and test the city’s level of preparedness. Exercises cover a variety of scenarios and range in scale from discussion-based (tabletop) simulations to full-scale field exercises. MOEM partners with other city, state, and federal agencies, as well as private and nonprofit sector organizations, to design and execute exercise scenarios at various venues. In some cases, city public-safety staff members travel to locations outside the city for training, including Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, New Mexico (for explosives training), Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, and the Emmitsburg, Maryland, campus of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In addition to off-site exercises, MOEM offers one or two trainings – from Federal Emergency Management Agency, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, and custom courses such as an overview of the emergency operations center – in house each month. Baltimore currently is working on a radio operations course for the region to teach emergency managers, high-level first responders, or anyone in a leadership role how to use newly programmed statewide radios during an emergency. “We encourage all of our partner organizations – city agencies, private-sector, nonprofit, and community partners – to participate in most of the trainings we bring to the city,” said Hsia in an email on 27 February 2014.

On 21 April 2014, MOEM coordinated a tabletop exercise with Amtrak, which offers emergency response training free of charge to all first responders. The scenario included an Amtrak train that derailed and collided with a Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train at a bend inside the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel. With 134 trains each day travelling through this tunnel, this is a realistic concern for local emergency planners. The exercise:

  • Identified logistic concerns for resources that would normally arrive by train and not be possible in such scenarios;

  • Addressed erroneous information that would likely disseminate in the early hours following the incident; and

  • Discussed various other topics, such as the incident command structure, emergency notification system, police log for accountability of those on scene, triage, scene security, traffic control, ingress/egress points, incident action plan, communication, prioritization (cascading priorities with life safety as the main priority), bystanders, documentation, information strategies, morgue/mortuary resources, medical treatment, patient tracking, hospital surge management, and the ensuing National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

With a small staff, MOEM sometimes develops trainings and coordinates efforts that later are transitioned to a sustainable partnership with another city agency. For example, training responsibilities for a liquefied natural gas facility in the city transitioned from MOEM to the captain of the fire engine company that will be first on the scene if an emergency occurs at that location. In addition to working with the facility on a daily basis, the captain has now gained a better understanding of the city’s overall preparedness program. Strong relationship-building practices that are used on a daily basis enable a small agency to do great things.

With its personnel, MOEM promotes the “When one succeeds, everyone succeeds” philosophy byentifying opportunities and people who have an interest in emergency management and assisting them as they moved through the ranks. Now in the final stages of development, a “career growth path” model for MOEM employees helps put staff on the right career path, equipped with the best tools. After finding out what new staff members want to do one and five years from now andentifying their areas of interest, MOEM leaders help determine the trainings, conferences, and other prerequisites they should take to achieve their goals. Eventually, this career growth concept will be extended to city employees in other agencies.

In an interview on 6 October 2014, Connor Scott, deputy director of MOEM, explained why it is so important to evaluate the goals and assist newer staff members in finding the right career paths for each of them: “We are very concerned about the high level of knowledge being concentrated at the top of the organizational chart. We have people who have had extensive training, have real-world experiences, and are very knowledgeable, but they tend to be closer to retirement. Therefore, our focus for training and exercises is shifting toward the next generation of public-safety personnel and emergency managers who are going to be filling these positions. This opportunity empowers staff at the ground level and helps build valuable experience.”

Preakness, Artscape & Other Major Events Baltimore has experienced an increase in the number of events that it has hosted over the past several years. From the MOEM perspective, special events – from local 5K foot races to the internationally attended Star-Spangled Spectacular – serve as “ambassadors” for the incident command system (ICS). With the mayor and deputy mayor of the city setting a precedent and establishing a strong ICS culture, the current staff members of MOEM have developed great appreciation for the system, which includes: the fundamentals of ICS; how MOEM operates within this system; and how ICS is effective and efficient in organizing operations to offer a clear picture of various roles and responsibilities.

MOEM plays a coordinating role in the city’s planning and management of events because major events: (a) require a large commitment of public-safety resources; (b) present logistical challenges; and/or (c) require advanced interagency planning. Although state and federal government involvement is not necessary for small events such as a 5K foot race, the local liaisons for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security are aware of such activities and are in contact with MOEM on a regular basis.

Two annual events that Baltimore hosted in 2014 were the 139th Preakness, which is the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, on 17 May 2014, and the 33rd Artscape, which is “America’s largest free arts festival,” on 18-20 July 2014. For such events, major concerns already areentified and the command room personnel are familiar with the process. However, at the same time, diligence is required to carefully review operations plans from year to year because there are many dynamic components that can change these plans. In a personal interview on 6 October 2014, Brian Bovaird, lieutenant in the Baltimore City Fire Department assigned to MOEM with his primary responsibility being special events, was adamant that recurring events, no matter how long they have been around, are not on “autopilot.” The framework is set but, “When you get complacent, that’s when lots of things can go wrong,” said Bovaird.

Each year, Baltimore is committed to improving policies, permitting, and operations of special events. For example, during the 32nd Artscape in 2013, a new condominium building with a parking garage resulted in changes for vendor parking and the location of the fire department’s command vehicle. These chang