MCHENRY — In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Garrett County is working to become better prepared by establishing a state-of the-art emergency operations center at its airport. Previously, a makeshift command center at the courthouse was used.
John Frank III, director of emergency management, is working on the procurement and purchasing for the center and hopes to move forward to the bid process in the next two weeks.
“It’s centrally located at the Garrett County Airport, which is owned and operated by the county. If there is a major event in the county, we can expand to use the airport terminals,” said Frank. “We really didn’t have an emergency operations center. Ultimately, I want to be at a point where I can preplan for an incident that is coming, give out the warning and get all of the department heads together.”
Frank said the operations center would have air assets and additional resources with Garrett College nearby.
The center is in need of generators, fiber optics, phones, computers, broadband and a GIS mapping system. The mapping system is imperative and would cost about $45,000, Frank said.
“This is our chance to do it right and not on the cheap,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski during a March meeting with Frank and the Garrett County commissioners to discuss the storm’s aftermath. “That center needs to function for whatever comes up; you need to be multiple function, multiple emergency.”
Frank has applied for a Maryland Emergency Management Agency grant for a generator.
“Let’s not self-censor on the basis of costs,” said Mikulski. “It won’t be all done in one grant or one application.”
The center will have broadband once the countywide broadband project is complete, according to Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator. Currently there is broadband up to Mosser Road where Garrett College is located.
“We were ill-prepared for Hurricane Sandy,” said County Commissioner Jim Raley. “One of the problems we had with Hurricane Sandy was the failure of generators.”
A generator that failed filled the Dennett Road Manor nursing center with smoke, which prompted an evacuation of its 100 residents in the height of a snowstorm, according to Raley. Mikulski suggested that the locations of vulnerable populations and essential services be identified and that periodic generator drills be conducted at those locations.
“We can handle a 3-foot snowstorm. We couldn’t handle when the trees were tangled in electric lines and they were in the roads and the road crew couldn’t get through,” said Raley. “We don’t ever want to be in that position again.”
During the storm, the county had problems restoring some of the pockets of electricity because the power outage was in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, feeding into Maryland, according to Raley.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has three R’s related to emergency preparedness, readiness, response and rehabilitation/recovery, Mikulski said.
Raley said an after-action analysis was done following the storm and, at Gov. Martin O’Malley’s urging, Frank was appointed. Former director of emergency management Brad Frantz had retired and was retained on a contractual part-time basis. O’Malley thought a full-time director was needed, Raley said.
Frank met with MEMA on April 2 to talk about the plans for the center. Mikulski requested that Frank ask MEMA to do an inventory of items that are necessary for the center. Mikulski said she is excited that Frank is working with MEMA because that agency would be able to help with best practices.
Contact Elaine Blaisdell at email@example.com.