LANDOVER — The Prince George’s County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) hosted its 2019 Emergency Preparedness Summit in recognition of September’s National Preparedness Month at Fairmont Heights High School on Sept. 28.
The theme for the event was “Creating Resilient Communities” where individuals, families and communities were encouraged to prepare for emergencies and disasters before they take place.
The all-day event consisted of discussions, workshops, a keynote speaker and practical information on how the community can ensure that they are ready in the event of an emergency.
Following the opening ceremony, attendees were able to participate in a series of emergency preparedness sessions where presenters talked about a variety of safety topics.
One of them was on public health awareness taught by Lisa Peterson, who serves as the Director of Healthcare Preparedness at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). In her professional role, Peterson focuses on the intersection of public health preparedness, homeland security and emergency management, which she touched on during her presentation.
“Emergency preparedness adds to the community’s overall resilience,” Peterson said. “People are adding to the community’s ability to be prepared.”
During her presentation, Peterson laid out what public health is and how it relates to emergencies as well as various concerns people should keep in mind during an emergency like debris clean up and removal, mitigating the effects of flooding, power outages, mental health and sheltering displaced populations.
She also described steps that people can take before, during and after a disaster such as being prepared to be on their own for at least 72 hours after a disaster, creating an emergency preparedness kit, getting insured, following the directions of local officials and being prepared for long-term shelter after a major disaster.
Finally, she detailed current public health threats that her organization is addressing such as the reappearance of diseases like measles and whooping cough due to low vaccination rates, lung problems arising from vaping and planning for the possibility of pandemic flu.
“We’re having disasters more, and they are more severe, and unfortunately we’re having shootings, unfortunately, more as well,” Peterson said. “So being able to kind of take those personal preparedness lessons and being able to use them in any and all situations. Things may change depending on the situation, but if you have those basics, that will help you in any situation.”
Another one of the sessions was on complex coordinated terrorist attacks presented by David Johnston, who serves a protective security advisor assigned to the state of Maryland with the Department of Homeland Security.
Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks, Johnston said, are acts of terrorism involving synchronized and independent teams at multiple locations that happen sequentially, have little to no warning and employ weapons such as firearms, explosives or other non-traditional attack methods.
Threats come from all hazards and can include everything from active assailants/shooters, complex coordinated attacks on a large scale or cyberattacks, Johnston said.
To be prepared, businesses and organizations should have a safety and security plan, an emergency action plan, a cyber protection plan and a business/organizational plan.
The two biggest lessons to take away were to share the experiences and skills learned here and “if you see something, say something,” Johnston said.
“You think it may just be you, but there could be a number of other people, and you could be the key to bring that information together. Don’t feel afraid to notify law enforcement,” he said.
“I like being prepared and living in Washington (D.C.), I kind of know we’re kind of a bullseye for terrorism, and we had a tornado not that many years ago, so it’s sort of foolish not to be prepared,” said Molly Shakeri, who attended the event.
The keynote speaker for the event was Nyla Howell, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and a FEMA Region III Youth Preparedness Council (YPC) mentor. Always passionate about weather, she was introduced to emergency management through Girl Scouts and joined the YPC in 2017.
During her speech, she emphasized the need for change in emergency management due to the effects of climate change.
Small shifts in temperature can have significant impact, she said, and the National Climate Assessment from 2018 cites changes in temperature, precipitation and fires as well as an increase in high-intensity weather events in the future.
“As I look towards the future of emergency management, this is one of my biggest concerns. How is the next generation going to shift their mindset to prepare for something they have never seen before? How are they going to respond to disasters that require more resources than they have?” she said.
An increase in youth involvement will be critical to helping communities prepare for these emergencies by spreading the message through social media and helping their communities on a more hands-on level, she said.
In addition to youth involvement, it will also be essential to educate the community as a whole on emergency management, especially to bring minorities into the field who are typically more vulnerable during emergencies and take longer to recover.
“As I envision the future of emergency management, I see it no longer a job for only professionals,” Howell said. “Everybody will need to be involved no matter what race, age or background. Everyone will have a role to contribute.”
Howell’s speech sparked a robust conversation among the audience about how to bring about diversity in the emergency management field, the best way to get young people aware and how to educate people on the topic.
Alva Amaker from Accokeek is a teacher in Prince George’s County and came to the summit specifically to learn how to get her school more involved with teaching emergency management.
“As citizens in our county, oftentimes we are very reactive,” she said. “But coming to something like this will make you more proactive because you hear things you would never have thought about…that’s probably what got me out here today.”
However, she wished the event had been better attended to ensure that there was enough engagement from all regions in the community and that there will be representatives in every community to make sure there is a certain level of preparedness.
“I just wonder because something like this definitely should have been standing room only,” Amaker said. “Because it’s like the incidents are happening too much too often and too frequently for us as a community to not be prepared.”