Commentary

Part IV - A Regional 'Whole-Community' Approach

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 fourth 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

Read Part III – Collaborative Efforts for Citywide Preparedness

The Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (MOEM) reaches beyond traditional local and city partners to integrate the business community and regional partners into its daily operations as well as emergency plans. In an interview with DomPrep on 14 October 2014, Tom Yeager, executive vice president of public safety and community services for The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore shared the history of the organization and its relationship with MOEM.

Downtown – Clean, Safe & Beautiful The Downtown Partnership is a membership organization for any businesses – hotels and the convention center to mom-and-pop stores – that would like to join. In line with current city initiatives – for example, the mayor’s 10,000 New Families and the Vacants to Value – the mission of this organization is to help downtown Baltimore grow by being more attractive, more inviting, and more prosperous. During a recession in the early 1990s, the Downtown Partnership examined other business improvement districts around the country and conducted surveys to find ways to improve the city without the city’s financial support.

The surveys revealed that, to be successful, the downtown communities would have to be cleaner and safer, which would require revenue. Business owners in 106 blocks of downtown Baltimore agreed to pay a property tax surcharge on for-profit buildings, which would go to the Downtown Partnership to sponsor a clean, safe, and beautiful program, known as the Downtown Management Authority (DMA), a quasi-government organization that contracts the Downtown Partnership to manage it.

In the safety portion of the clean, safe, and beautiful program, DMA launched a public safety coalition in the 1990s, which was led by a retired major and retired sergeant from the Baltimore Police Department. Initially, DMA brought together all public and private security in the downtown area to share information about crimes and incidents within the various law enforcement organizations.

In 1999, Yeager took over and helped expand the program to be more inclusive, eventually including Visit Baltimore, the Health Department, MOEM, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which are all networked by email. DMA also has a network of all the multifamily residential and business property owners in the downtown area. The Downtown Partnership has an even bigger business network that can disseminate important information.

The events of 9/11 were a turning point for Baltimore. The city police commissioner approached DMA to reach out to hotels about their ventilation systems. It then became obvious that the city needed to include more players in the planning process and tabletop exercises.

Integration of Businesses & Emergency Operations On average, 40-50 people attend the monthly DMA meetings to have lunch and report on major events and other information that are critical to the security and business communities. These meetings provide an effective method for exchanging information and networking before an incident occurs. When a water main breaks downtown, for example, owners and employees may be unable to access or must close their businesses. In such cases, they need real-time information about current events. To provide such information, DMA launched a program in 2007 called Baltimore Emergency Communications Network (BECON) through Message One, which offered DMA its services free of charge.

Yeager began to staff the city emergency operations center under certain circumstances following the launch of BECON. A BECON alert would signal a conference call with the businesses to brief them on the incident and inform them about when they could re-enter their buildings. The Baltimore Office of Emergency Management (now MOEM) adopted that model and expanded it to include citywide participation. Yeager now participates in almost all of the tabletop exercises that involve the downtown area – for example, the Star-Spangled Spectacular and the Grand Prix.

Although individual business owners do not attend all the tabletop exercises, Yeager serves as an information-sharing hub to provide two-way communication between the business community, MOEM, and DHS. Information sharing is the biggest benefit to the Downtown Partnership-DMA-MOEM relationship. If information remains at MOEM or businesses do not share what they know, then valuable information resources are lost.

Television and radio provide breaking news stories, but do not include details that are necessary to business owners – for instance, specific timelines, road closures, areas with limited access, and other information necessary to run their critical services. Without being linked to people on the scene of an incident or staffing the emergency operations center, they may have to place several phone calls before finding the answers they need.

In some cases, the Downtown Partnership provides MOEM with information that is crucial to the decision-making process. For example, conventions of all sizes are important to include in the planning efforts of both public and private sectors. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. With so many businesses and security offices in Baltimore, Yeager at the Downtown Partnership provides MOEM with a single point of contact. “If Baltimore didn’t have Tom [Yeager], or a function like that, we would have to consider hiring a full-time business liaison because he plays such a huge and critical role,” said Connor Scott, deputy director of MOEM, in a DomPrep interview on 14 October 2014.

Additional benefits of this relationship include rumor control and facility access. MOEM verifies information about incidents and rapidly relays pertinent details through the information network established by the Downtown Partnership. The mutual respect and trust within these core relationships at times provide the public sector with access to private sector facilities as well. If an emergency compromises MOEM and its personnel need somewhere to continue operations, the business community is already equipped with phones, computers, and turnkey access to the city’s servers. Everybody works together.

CitiWatch – A National Best Practice Before 2003, the Baltimore business community, through the DMA, funded the installation of static cameras in the downtown area. The 96 cameras pointed toward parking lanes used analog technology and an outdated system, but they still were helpful when investigating vehicle damage and thefts. Then-Mayor Martin O’Malley – now governor of Maryland – travelled to England in 2003, where he saw that country’s surveillance camera system and wanted to install a similar system in Baltimore. When he returned from his trip, he met with Yeager, learned more about the current downtown camera system, and introduced him to a committee with the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology.

DMA then reached out to DHS to determine if any other jurisdictions in the United States were using similar surveillance systems as the one in London. Equipped with this information, Baltimore purchased many new cameras with Buffer Zone Protection Program grant money, most of which was invested in the Inner Harbor area because of the DHS terrorism risk assessment. DMA and the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology then began expanding the existing system and started the current CitiWatch program.

The first step was to find a suitable location. Southern Management Corporation was the first business to erect a residential building on the west side of downtown Baltimore. Although further development was supposed to follow, legal issues delayed additional construction and area improvement for several years. After discussions with DMA, the owner of that building offered CitiWatch some of its basement space to start the program with about 80 new cameras. Shortly thereafter, the city established a police substation in the same building.

The new system caused some public resistance, so parameters had to be established requiring a police report before anyone could view surveillance video. Aligning all the protocols took some time before DMA could launch the CitiWatch program, but it has now expanded into different districts across the city and is recognized as a national best practice.

A Productive Regional Working Group Regional planning helps ensure that response and recovery efforts are coordinated across jurisdictional boundaries. Baltimore City is the core of the Baltimore Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), with a member of MOEM appointed by the mayor as the chairperson for Urban Area Working Group (UAWG), which administers – with support from MOEM – the region’s UASI. The Baltimore UASI and UAWG are composed of seven jurisdictions, with one voting member appointed by the elected official in each jurisdiction: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties, as well as Annapolis and Baltimore cities. In addition, UAWG works in close collaboration with other agencies such as the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, and federal partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Established in 2003, the UAWG works with partners to create policy regarding regional preparedness efforts, which stem from regional UASI funds. However, these funds have decreased over the years: from more than $10 million 7 years ago to $5.5 million currently. This reduction in grant funding forced UAWG to take a more serious approach toward a partnership philosophy that leverages the resources of all the jurisdictions in the Baltimore UASI to better prepare as a region. Although many initiatives originate in Baltimore City, all decisions are made under the auspices of regional preparedness.

The Baltimore UASI hosts general meetings, which are open to anyone, every other month and executive-only meetings in the off months. In addition to regular meetings, the UAWG also started a new quarterly seminar series to attract stakeholders from across all disciplines to discuss specific events, scenarios, or threats that the region may face. To gain a better understanding of how to approach key mission areas – preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery – the seminars feature subject matter experts who have personal experiences relevant to the topic of discussion. These presentations highlight experiences that are not often shared in publications or news outlets.

The first full-day seminar was held in Howard County, Maryland, on 3 September 2014, with approximately 200 attendees. Local emergency managers shared their personal accounts from the emergency operations centers during Hurricanes Charley, Katrina, Ike, and Sandy. The biggest takeaway from that seminar was the value of building relationships within and between communities, which is a driving force behind the Baltimore UASI.

The next seminar is scheduled to be held in Baltimore on 20 November 2014 to address active assailants from the perspectives of the private sector, law enforcement, and school administration. The panel and participants will discuss issues that may be overlooked during the planning process and lessons from the panelists’ experiences could be incorporated into the plans of other jurisdictions. Building on the last seminar, UASI will include a mechanism for polling the audience through smartphones. Samuel Johnson, the new regional training and exercise coordinator at MOEM, will lead the November seminar. So far, more than 500 people have registered for this upcoming event.

Risk Assessments & Regional Trainings In addition to outreach efforts, a critical role of MOEM and the Baltimore UASI is toentify risks – both natural and human-caused – prioritize planning efforts, and develop and implement long-term mitigation strategies for the communities they serve. MOEM works with a variety of agencies and outside experts to study and evaluate the frequency and magnitude of the hazards that are more likely to affect the city and its surrounding areas. Large activations and the potential for huge crowds of people entering Baltimore heighten awareness of potential incidents and terrorist threats.

Based on these assessments, the Baltimore UASI conducts tabletop and full-scale exercises to address specific vulnerabilities and to highlight regional capabilities. One such tabletop training was conducted on 6 March 2014 at MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore to test the newly drafted Region III Maryland Alternate Care Site Equipment and Supply Cache Activation Plan. Participants included: local Offices of Emergency Management and Health Departments; Maryland Region III hospitals and Health and Medical Task Force; Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; the Maryland Emergency Management Agency; the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems; and Maryland Task Force 2.

There are seven alternate care sites in the Baltimore UASI region – one for each jurisdiction represented in the Baltimore UAWG – with MOEM overseeing the movement of UASI assets and the pre-approval process. MOEM approached each of the sites to help hospital personnel understand how specific supplies would be deployed, managed, returned, and replenished. Investments in alternate care site caches began about four years ago and, now, the majority of the cache is stored in a warehouse in Baltimore City. To avoid delays and reliance on Baltimore City personnel to deploy these resources, hospital and other personnel are trained on forklifts and loading/unloading the cache onto box trucks. The trained personnel then can go directly to the warehouse t