- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

REISTERSTOWN, Md. — Hundreds dead. Looting near Hagerstown. Tornadoes in Prince George’s County. Those are just a few of the problems Maryland officials would face during a hurricane or other major disaster.

Though the state routinely stages emergency drills, the drill yesterday in conjunction with ones in the District and Virginia focused on the aftermath — not the storm making landfall.

About 100 emergency-crew members responding to a pretend Category 3 hurricane acted as if the storm had hit 48 hours earlier. In a military-civilian operations center in suburban Baltimore, they sat before five large screens and practiced a simulation of the aftermath.

The scenario included reports of looting in Funkstown, near Hagerstown, with an additional 3,500 residents needing evacuation from their homes because of a rising Antietam Creek. There were tetanus shots needed in Carroll County, reports of tornadoes in Prince George’s County, plus six persons missing in Kent County. In the scenario, the hurricane had already taken the lives of 207 people. One million were without electricity.

“You don’t respond to the hurricane. You respond to the aftermath,” said Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Military Department, the state agency that includes the state National Guard and Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

All Maryland agencies participated, joined by utility companies and the military. Virginia and the District ran drills using the same hypothetical hurricane.

“If a hurricane comes, it’s not just going to hit Maryland,” said Katie Leahan, a MEMA spokeswoman. “It’s going to affect all of us.”

Drill participants didn’t know what to expect until told of each new wrinkle. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, for example, was passable only by emergency vehicles. Several counties requested additional rescue crews to get people out of their homes. Local rescuers were told they may not have electricity for a week.

The scenario was inspired in part by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, during which the emergency spread across several states and lasted weeks — not hours. “We took a lot of lessons home because of Katrina,” Miss Leahan said.

Col. James Grove, director of military support to civil authorities for the Maryland National Guard, said the exercise was valuable because much of the response work doesn’t begin until after the storm is gone. First responders look for survivors and recover the dead, then they get water and food to the victims.

“Then you establish security and meet basic human needs,” he said.

The drill showed Maryland has more work to do. Several local responders said they couldn’t use the computer system set up to coordinate efforts. But the exercise room was calm, despite hundreds typing away at laptop computers to practice different facets of the hypothetical storm.

MEMA Director John W. Droneburg III said the emergency practice is required, though Maryland has not been directly hit by a hurricane. For example, Isabel in 2003 caused major damage, despite being a tropical storm.


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