BOWIE – While citizens are told to call 911 in case of an emergency, for cities, handling a situation is much more complicated. That is why the Bowie City Council voted 7-0 to adopt an emergency response plan developed by staff members including Emergency Manager Larry Schultz. The document is designed to clearly spell out […]
BOWIE – While citizens are told to call 911 in case of an emergency, for cities, handling a situation is much more complicated.
That is why the Bowie City Council voted 7-0 to adopt an emergency response plan developed by staff members including Emergency Manager Larry Schultz. The document is designed to clearly spell out the responsibilities of city government in a variety of emergency or disaster situations, providing a clear framework that will allow the city to be self-sufficient for 72 hours before county, state or federal help can be secured. It updates the city’s 2003 plan to comply with new federal laws and county protocols.
Agencies such as the Prince George’s County Office of Emergency Management, the Maryland Department of Disabilities and each of the city’s own departments provided input on the plan. Schultz said each department also has its own specific responsibilities and plans for various emergencies, the “meat and potatoes,” and the citywide plan is meant to supplement and enhance those.
“I think the biggest thing to know about the emergency operations plan is it’s not the end-all, be-all of plans. It really just provides a framework for how we operate,” Schultz said.
Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said the plan puts the city in a good position to handle any emergency that may arise.
“We’ve had our share of emergencies over the years, everything from winds to storms to snow and everything else, and what Larry has done is gone back and redone everything and has come up with a very workable, predictable and reasonable plan,” he said.
Schultz said possible risks to national capital-area cities such as Bowie include chemical or biological attacks, cyber security issues, pandemic illnesses and terrorism. The plan also contains city-specific scenarios such as severe weather and an incident involving any of the three dams in Bowie.
Another important facet of the plan is the section about the city’s emergency operations center, detailing the levels of activation and the chain of command and responsibility once it is activated.
“During an event where there’s an on-scene incident commander, that is where the incident is run, and it’s managed at that level. The emergency operations center primarily focuses on the greater strategic priorities, and then providing resources to wherever the emergency is. It becomes the resources coordination center, if you will,” Schultz said.
The adoption of the plan comes at a tense time for many municipalities following the bombing attacks in New York City and New Jersey over the weekend. September is also National Preparedness Month (including in Bowie, with the resolution adopted Monday as well). Mayor Pro-Tem Henri Gardner said in light of the New York incident, he wanted to know if Bowie buildings would be vulnerable to attack.
Schultz said he didn’t want to provide too many details publically, but said that the new city hall had been evaluated by experts and staff are moving forward with addressing any vulnerabilities.
“The first couple of months I was here, the city did a third-party threat and vulnerability assessment on City Hall. It provided us a really nice path forward for how to enhance security not just in this building, but some of the other critical infrastructure,” he said.
The city also plans to explore the potential of using a system of security cameras, but Schultz said the IT infrastructure must be updated first. The council has already committed money to the cameras, he said.
The emergency plan will be reviewed annually and updated every four years. Schultz said the staff will practice working through the steps outlined for various scenarios and use that simulated real-world experience to make any changes necessary.
“The plan is a living and breathing document. You develop a plan, and then something happens – maybe it’s an event, or maybe it’s a tabletop exercise – but we actually play the plan out and in doing so, we’re able to identify any gaps and we modify the document,” he said. “And then we go back through that process again.”
City residents also play a part in emergency preparedness and Councilman Isaac Trouth said he would have liked to see the plan incorporate more outreach to citizens.
“One of the things I’d like to see enhanced in the document is to have more focus on resident education. That 72-hour emergency kit is a great way of making our residents self-sufficient, to a certain extent,” he said.
Robinson agreed it is important for city residents to take preparedness seriously and to buy or construct a kit that will allow them to individually support their needs in the event of an emergency.
“These are the kind of things you should have on hand. Your own personal survival kit should include flashlights and batteries, battery-powered radios,” he said. “Just keep it in case. You hope you never have to use it.”