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November 8, 2013

Emergency operations center now fully operational

Facility at Garrett County Airport has geographic mapping system, stations for 22 staffers

MCHENRY — The state-of-the-art emergency operations center at the Garrett County Airport became fully operational two weeks ago after snags with fiber optics were fixed.

The 700-square-foot facility includes a GIS mapping system, a double touch SMART Board, 22 stations for staff, four primary computer stations for specific functions like tracking weather and a ham radio station, according to John Frank III, director of emergency management. “We still have a few things that we need to tweak a little bit,” he said.

A test on the fiber op-tics system still needs to be completed, according to Frank.

The EOC has a computer plug for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency representative to access the WebEOC, which can be used to request more personnel in the event of an emergency situation, according to Frank.  

The EOC will have two operators who will be available to transfer calls to the appropriate location, such as the roads department.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the county begin working on the EOC to become better prepared for emergency situations.

“We admit in our after-action report that we were ill-prepared, we really didn’t have an active emergency operations center,” said County Commissioner Jim Raley. “Certainly, that doesn’t mean before Hurricane Sandy we didn’t talk about some problems.”

Prior to the EOC, a 525-square-foot makeshift command center at the courthouse was used. In the beginning, the command center didn’t have phones or laptops for the EOC staff.

One of the issues during Superstorm Sandy was that the National Weather Service was forecasting that the storm wasn’t going to affect the county, according to Raley.

“We know in the future that we should have been at a mid-level early on watching the storm, then should have had staff ready,” said Raley. “Now the nice thing is we have all that in place.”

The county adopted an EOC essential employee list that is made up of 40 people. The policy consists of three levels in which essential staff responds. The county is always operating at a level three, which is the lowest level, according to Frank. Level three is a monitoring phase in which the EOC is staffed by public safety and emergency management personnel.

“I feel really good about what we have in place. We have the facility and we are going to have the personnel,” said Raley. “Those are two of the key things that need to be in place, we have the resources of other agencies now as well.”

All the essential staff are required to attend two training sessions a year and to participate in a tabletop exercise.

“Another key piece is identifying those people that need to be here,” said county commission chairman Robert Gatto. “That was another problem getting staff in; some of the agencies couldn’t get to their staff, communication was lost or the ability to get them in was lost. That was one thing that really came out in the after-action.”

Local Emergency Planning Committee staff and essential staff will be notified of an emergency situation via email and text through the computer-aided dispatch system at the 911 center, according to Frank. The LEPC put together the after-action report following Superstorm Sandy.

“We really did have hard conversations about the things that didn’t go right,” said Raley. “Some things did go right; we tweaked those a little bit and they became part of the after-action report.”

There were also some issues with wellness checks of the vulnerable population, according to Raley.

A committee specific to the vulnerable population has been established and meets periodically at the health department to finalize standard operation procedures for wellness checks performed by various agencies/departments.

The Department of Public Safety was awarded approximately $79,000 through MEMA for a generator terminal and Frank is working on procurement of the generator. The airport has its own generator.

Frank has been working with delegates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and MEMA to find funding sources, according to Gatto.

“We had great support during Sandy and it carried us through to this point,” said Gatto.

The airport location centralizes the EOC but still places it away from other areas that could become potential problem areas in case of an emergency, like Interstate 68 and downtown Oakland, said Raley. The airport also makes it easier for emergency reponders to fly in and is centrally located to Garrett College and the fairgrounds.

“When you look at how everything is staged, this corridor is the actual perfect corridor,” said Raley.

Frank hopes to expand the EOC or have a stand-alone facility so that the room where the EOC is located can be turned back over to the airport.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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