Residents should prepare for worst

November 27, 2005|By ERIN CUNNIGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Alerting Washington County residents about a large-scale disaster would be a problem during an emergency, according to Stoyan Russell, the county's emergency planner.

Radio broadcasts, which Russell said could be pointless during a power outage, and door-to-door alerts - impossible during some hazardous materials incidents - would be the county's main vehicles for alerting residents to leave their homes.

If they are forced to evacuate, Russell said, residents would be expected to have prepared "go bags" filled with enough supplies to last each family member for at least three days.


He said he believes most people are prepared. If not, "that's your problem," he said.

When asked what residents without means to provide a "go bag" should do, Russell said all residents should be able to pack food, medicine, clothes, personal care items and other necessities in a bag. Even residents with little money should be able to do this, he said.

"They have money for cigarettes," he said. "They have money for booze."

Russell wrote the county's 49-page interim evacuation plan, which includes two appendixes, but until September he was the only one to have reviewed it. The plan has not been formally adopted or reviewed by sources outside of emergency services.

After a request by The Herald-Mail to review the county's evacuation plan in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in mid-September, the document was revised and expanded.

The Herald-Mail submitted a Freedom of Information Act request Oct. 17 to Washington County attorney Richard Douglas asking for a copy of the original interim evacuation plan. That version had 17 pages.

Asked in October about the changes he made to the county's evacuation plan after the initial Herald-Mail request, Russell said he did not "remember" the changes.

"You'll have to go back through it and compare," he said.

Joe Kroboth, director of Washington County Emergency Services, said the newspaper's request prompted him to review the evacuation plan for the first time. It was revised because the plan did not "follow the county format," he said.

A newly revised version of the plan was provided to the newspaper Nov. 16 after a verbal request. The updated plan - 17 pages and missing the two appendixes that were in the earlier submitted copy - included transportation guidelines for moving residents into shelters.

The risks

Dr. Robert Bass, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS), said a good local emergency response plan should assess specific risks to the area first and plan for each risk.

"You can't say, well, hurricanes are a priority and only plan for hurricanes," Bass said. "You must plan for all emergencies."

Russell said he had not consulted with officials at MIEMSS or the Maryland Emergency Management Agency about Washington County's evacuation plan. He said he anticipates meeting with officials from "several different agencies" at the end of the month.

Although Russell's position was funded through a Maryland Emergency Management Agency Homeland Security grant, the state agency does not oversee the plans he writes for Washington County.Jeff Welsh, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, would not comment on Washington County's draft plan.

The risk in Washington County of a hazardous materials incident is high - four on a scale of five, according to analysis in the county's interim evacuation plan.

Flooding is another concern. The plan states that 367 homes in Washington County are at risk for serious flooding.

Of the county's 22 dams, four have been rated by the Maryland Department of the Environment as being at a high risk for failure.

Hurricanes, tornados and blizzards also are addressed as risks in the county's evacuation plan.

The risk of a terrorist attack is not rated in the county's plan on a numbered scale, but it is addressed in the document as a concern.

"With the close proximity of several important government/military sites within or in very close proximity to Washington County, a terrorist initiating a (weapons of mass destruction) event is a possibility," the document states.

The plan

The plan does not address specifically what county officials will do should a serious blizzard or hazardous materials incident occur. The language in the document is broad, telling individuals and departments what to do, but now how to do it.

The specifics will be decided after the disaster has occurred, Kroboth said.

"You cannot be specific, period, until the event occurs," Russell said.

Kroboth offered the example of Hurricane Isabel, which hit Maryland in 2003. When it became clear the hurricane would be heading toward Maryland and could affect Washington County, an eight-page incident action plan was drafted.

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