- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday called for Baltimore to be identified with the National Capital Region in order to better prepare the D.C. area for homeland security emergencies.

“In the event of a large-scale evacuation of our nation’s capital … as we saw happen in New Orleans, cities like Richmond and Baltimore would become sort of the Baton Rouge,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat.

Mr. O’Malley joined Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in a meeting to discuss and identify regional priorities and coordination.

The National Capital Region, created and defined by Congress, includes the District, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland, and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and Alexandria in Virginia.

The Maryland governor said Baltimore, about 40 miles north of the District, should be part of the region because of the cities’ proximity and likely reliance on each other in case of an emergency.

He acknowledged that decreases in homeland security funding would make an extension of the legally defined area more difficult.

Last year, homeland security funding to the D.C. area was reduced from $77 million to about $46 million.

“It’s difficult to have a conversation about extending the National Capital Region when homeland security dollars continue to be cut every year,” Mr. O’Malley said. “It’s hard to have broader views [of] how interdependent we are on one another for this sort of security and shelter … that we have as really a big metro economy that encompasses this whole kind of Chesapeake region.”

Mr. Chertoff said he would favor a broader synchronization between the jurisdictions but stopped short of agreeing that Baltimore should be included in the National Capital Region.

“I think it’s a great idea to broaden the planning process and synchronize our operational activity outside of the National Capital Region,” Mr. Chertoff said. “But … there’s a day-to-day coordination that takes place in this region that at least from my standpoint has worked well as a focused issue.”

Leaders from the District, Maryland and Virginia have met eight times since 2003 to discuss areas of mutual interest, including security, air quality, transportation and the Chesapeake Bay.

Mr. Fenty, Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Kaine yesterday identified seven investment priorities for homeland security that they will transmit to federal officials on April 5.

The priorities include calls for funding to enhance communication among regional agencies, expand hospital and shelter capacities, and purchase additional equipment for bomb squads.

The leaders said they hope to test four operation centers in the region to ensure that interjurisdictional communications work correctly, and plan a “tabletop exercise” to examine the details of a disaster response.

“This was a very productive meeting,” Mr. Fenty said. “The District of Columbia isn’t an island when it comes to safety.”

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