Publisher note: Baltimore City is the 26th most populous city in the United States, comparable in size to cities such as Las Vegas, Nevada, and Boston, Massachusetts. DomPrep has had the distinct privilege to observe the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management during a ten-month project that goes behind the scenes of emergency management and public safety. Many other cities must prepare for similar incidents and special events, involving corresponding tasks and responsibilities. This is the third of a five-part series, each part addressing a different component of the emergency management process, and each component having the ability to overwhelm a city. Please send me a note and let me know if you find this subject matter reporting to be helpful. –Martin Masiuk, Publisher, email@example.com
Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)
In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), which mandated the establishment of state/tribe emergency response commissions, which are responsible for coordinating activities for local emergency planning districts, and appointing local emergency planning committee (LEPC) advisors to enable communities to collaboratively plan for chemical emergencies that occur within their communities. In the 1980s and 1990s, southern Baltimore was home to many chemical companies that came together to: (a) share resources; (b) train, equip, and prepare personnel; and (c) develop incident plans. Although there are fewer chemical companies in existence today, people who live in these communities still have a right to know what chemicals are being stored and what risks may be posed to residents in these areas.
Around 2007, MOEM, which chairs the LEPC and organizes all of its activities, decided to expand the scope of the Baltimore City LEPC to include other areas of interest and additional community preparedness efforts beyond the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency. With a new Organization Chart (Note: Medical Reserve Corps now exists in Maryland, not in Baltimore City) and bylaws adopted in 2008, this platform for networking and preparing the city now reaches a much broader range of participants than just those required by law: hospitals, local media, chemical companies, fire department, and other government agencies. The Baltimore LEPC currently has 355 unique organizations and 692 general members.
Baltimore’s 13-member advisory committee conducts conference calls before the quarterly general meetings to determine the agenda, topics to discuss, and feedback from previous meetings. With strong representation from neighborhood associations, chemical companies, faith-based organizations, media corporations, community members, public-safety agencies, nongovernmental organizations, public and private partners, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and volunteer groups, the advisory committee leads each quarterly meeting of about 100 people and offers networking opportunities before an incident occurs. By the time an emergency arises, these participants already have valuable connections in the city and beyond.
To take full advantage of the time and encourage participants to attend, MOEM designs each meeting similar to a miniature conference, with time for networking, presentations on activities occurring throughout the city, and a panel session on a hot topic such as active shooters, hazmat incidents, and extreme weather events. The LEPC pushes information from MOEM to its partner agencies and organizations, but it also pulls valuable information from these partners. Meeting with those who do not work every day in the emergency preparedness community helps MOEM staff: (a) listen to the concerns of the participants; (b) understand what others in the city can provide during an emergency; and (c) define expectations and messaging tactics for the public.
In addition to the quarterly meetings, another LEPC requirement is to ensure that all participants have access to training opportunities. MOEM extends such invitations to all city residents and employees, when appropriate, for planned training opportunities. In turn, some property owners have been willing to donate the use their commercial buildings and other property for large full-scale exercises. One such full-scale exercise conducted on 16 July 2014 began as a discussion at an LEPC meeting with the Baltimore Water Taxi. The capsized water taxi exercise included representatives from most if not all of the city’s response agencies. Better communication between first responders and the Coast Guard, which use different radio frequencies, was possibly the biggest takeaway from that event.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency administers LEPCs in counties across the nation, some may exist primarily on paper, which does nothing to protect cities when incidents occur. The Baltimore LEPC has set a precedent to constantly interact with and meet many people in very different roles. Rather than shaking hands, then disappearing, MOEM strives to stay connected with Baltimore residents and employees through strong leadership and consistency with its LEPC meetings and trainings. Chi-poe Hsia, director of planning at MOEM, stated in an interview on 6 October 2014 that, “It’s great to know who to call outside of government agencies when something happens. And these partners appreciate the notice they receive from having that relationship with us.”
Credentials, Training & Exercises
The Corporate Emergency Access System (CEAS), a nonprofit company based in New York, offers a program designed to reduce the economic impact on and facilitate recovery activities of businesses and the city as a whole following a disaster. The CEAS pre-incident credentialing program permits prescreened businesses to travel through restricted areas to rapidly access their facilities, assess damages, maintain core information systems, turn on back-up systems, meet regulatory obligations, secure or remove vital records and data, and perform other critical tasks following an emergency.
The Baltimore business community, represented by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, shared information with MOEM about how the program is being used in New York City and expressed interest in implementing CEAS in Baltimore. MOEM partnered with CEAS in November 2009 to handle the city’s business credentialing process and regularly trains the Baltimore Police Department on scanning procedures for secure identification cards and access procedures for business employees with critical roles and responsibilities into specified restricted areas following a disaster. Currently, a couple hundred businesses in the city are registered, but MOEM plans to expand the program regionally or statewide through the Maryland Emergency Management Agency because not everyone who works in Baltimore lives in Baltimore, which has deterred some companies from registering.
Each year, MOEM coordinates an interagency program of trainings and exercises targeted to an audience from all over the region to enhance and test the city’s level of preparedness. Exercises cover a variety of scenarios and range in scale from discussion-based (tabletop) simulations to full-scale field exercises. MOEM partners with other city, state, and federal agencies, as well as private and nonprofit sector organizations, to design and execute exercise scenarios at various venues. In some cases, city public-safety staff members travel to locations outside the city for training, including Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, New Mexico (for explosives training), Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, and the Emmitsburg, Maryland, campus of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In addition to off-site exercises, MOEM offers one or two trainings – from Federal Emergency Management Agency, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, and custom courses such as an overview of the emergency operations center – in house each month. Baltimore currently is working on a radio operations course for the region to teach emergency managers, high-level first responders, or anyone in a leadership role how to use newly programmed statewide radios during an emergency. “We encourage all of our partner organizations – city agencies, private-sector, nonprofit, and community partners – to participate in most of the trainings we bring to the city,” said Hsia in an email on 27 February 2014.
On 21 April 2014, MOEM coordinated a tabletop exercise with Amtrak, which offers emergency response training free of charge to all first responders. The scenario included an Amtrak train that derailed and collided with a Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train at a bend inside the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel. With 134 trains each day traveling through this tunnel, this is a realistic concern for local emergency planners. The exercise:
Identified logistic concerns for resources that would normally arrive by train and not be possible in such scenarios;
Addressed erroneous information that would likely be disseminated in the early hours following the incident; and
Discussed various other topics, such as the incident command structure, emergency notification system, police log for accountability of those on scene, triage, scene security, traffic control, ingress/egress points, incident action plan, communication, prioritization (cascading priorities with life safety as the main priority), bystanders, documentation, information strategies, morgue/mortuary resources, medical treatment, patient tracking, hospital surge management, and the ensuing National Transportation Safety Board investigation.
With a small staff, MOEM sometimes develops trainings and coordinates efforts that later are transitioned to a sustainable partnership with another city agency. For example, training responsibilities for a liquefied natural gas facility in the city transitioned from MOEM to the captain of the fire engine company that will be first on the scene if an emergency occurs at that location. In addition to working with the facility on a daily basis, the captain has now gained a better understanding of the city’s overall preparedness program. Strong relationship-building practices that are used on a daily basis enable a small agency to do great things.
With its personnel, MOEM promotes the “When one succeeds, everyone succeeds” philosophy by identifying opportunities and people who have an interest in emergency management and assisting them as they moved through the ranks. Now in the final stages of development, a “career growth path” model for MOEM employees helps put staff on the right career path, equipped with the best tools. After finding out what new staff members want to do one and five years from now and identifying their areas of interest, MOEM leaders help determine the trainings, conferences, and other prerequisites they should take to achieve their goals. Eventually, this career growth concept will be extended to city employees in other agencies.
In an interview on 6 October 2014, Connor Scott, deputy director of MOEM, explained why it is so important to evaluate the goals and assist newer staff members in finding the right career paths for each of them: “We are very concerned about the high level of knowledge being concentrated at the top of the organizational chart. We have people who have had extensive training, have real-world experiences, and are very knowledgeable, but they tend to be closer to retirement. Therefore, our focus for training and exercises is shifting toward the next generation of public-safety personnel and emergency managers who are going to be filling these positions. This opportunity empowers staff at the ground level and helps build valuable experience.”
Preakness, Artscape & Other Major Events
Baltimore has experienced an increase in the number of events that it has hosted over the past several years. From the MOEM perspective, special events – from local 5K foot races to the internationally attended Star-Spangled Spectacular – serve as “ambassadors” for the incident command system (ICS). With the mayor and deputy mayor of the city setting a precedent and establishing a strong ICS culture, the current staff members of MOEM have developed great appreciation for the system, which includes: the fundamentals of ICS; how MOEM operates within this system; and how ICS is effective and efficient in organizing operations to offer a clear picture of various roles and responsibilities.
MOEM plays a coordinating role in the city’s planning and management of events because major events: (a) require a large commitment of public-safety resources; (b) present logistical challenges; and/or (c) require advanced interagency planning. Although state and federal government involvement is not necessary for small events such as a 5K foot race, the local liaisons for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security are aware of such activities and are in contact with MOEM on a regular basis.
Two annual events that Baltimore hosted in 2014 were the 139th Preakness, which is the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, on 17 May 2014, and the 33rd Artscape, which is “America’s largest free arts festival,” on 18-20 July 2014. For such events, major concerns already are identified and the command room personnel are familiar with the process. However, at the same time, diligence is required to carefully review operations plans from year to year because there are many dynamic components that can change these plans. In a personal interview on 6 October 2014, Brian Bovaird, lieutenant in the Baltimore City Fire Department assigned to MOEM with his primary responsibility being special events, was adamant that recurring events, no matter how long they have been around, are not on “autopilot.” The framework is set but, “When you get complacent, that’s when lots of things can go wrong,” said Bovaird.
Each year, Baltimore is committed to improving policies, permitting process, and operations of special events. For example, during the 32nd Artscape in 2013, a new condominium building with a parking garage resulted in changes for vendor parking and the location of the re department’s command vehicle. These changes, though, caused gridlock and a disruption for the people entering and exiting the parking garage. As a result, the plan in 2014 required agencies to relocate the fire command vehicle, run new fiber optic lines, and provide necessary logistical support to the fire department.
At Preakness, the unified command structure ran the event as “a little city,” with two ingress and 19 egress points, a dedicated lane for easy movement of police, re, and emergency medical services, interoperable communications, and check-in/check-out procedures. The roof of the grandstand offered an aerial vantage point for police spotters and hazmat team members who were performing air monitoring to detect any potential airborne hazard in real time. MOEM provided regular command updates with information about attendee numbers, emergency medical responses, traffic issues, social media monitoring for threats, and number of significant incidents.
The key lessons learned from these and other established annual events – the African American Heritage Festival, July 4th and New Year’s Eve celebrations, Army-Navy football games, Olympian Celebration at Fort McHenry, and Baltimore Marathon – is that, no matter how many times an event takes place, the planning process, security protocols, security plans, and best practices constantly change and evolve. Frequent events offer some planning advantages but, at the same time, they still require full engagement every year.
A Successful & “Spectacular” Event
In September 2014, Baltimore hosted the “Star-Spangled Spectacular,” a weeklong event commemorating the writing of the National Anthem in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. MOEM and other local, state, and federal partners gathered for pre-event planning activities under the leadership of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. Event-related activities spanned Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Fort McHenry, and the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, and included displays of tall ships and gray hulls from numerous countries around the world, as well as an air show by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Adding to the excitement of the event, the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles both hosted home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Yankees, respectively.
From the beginning stages of planning for the Star-Spangled Spectacular, Bovaird said, “I knew it was going to be a regional event, so we immediately got the Maryland Emergency Management Agency involved as our regional partner.” Monthly planning meetings addressed historical sites of interest, Homeland Security Information Network, communication, site plans, and planning group briefings: each group presented planning updates, coordination requests, logistical needs, and action items/next steps. Although there was a significant federal presence for the event, which was designated as a Special Event Assessment Rating of 2 (an event with national and/or international importance), city and state agencies were working together for six months or more before federal agencies became involved. By the time the federal coordinator fully engaged city agencies for that event, an established, clear, and documented organizational and meeting structure was in place, which made it easier to demonstrate where everyone fits within the structure.
The Star-Spangled Spectacular festivities began on 9 September 2014, as 134 buses transporting more than 7,000 students from every county in Maryland unloaded their passengers at Fort McHenry. Law enforcement officers directed traffic and secured the area, while fire and emergency medical personnel staged nearby. Dressed in red, white, and blue shirts, the students launched the weeklong event by forming the largest American living flag ever created.
Behind the scenes, five Area Commands – Baltimore Area, Navy, Coast Guard, Fort McHenry, and Martin State Airport – and the Unified Area Command, stationed at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, kept close watch of the events throughout the day and night. Although it is difficult to estimate the exact size of the crowds that were widely dispersed throughout the city, well over one million people visited Baltimore during the event. Unlike the 2012 Sailabration, many events at the 2014 Spectacular were held outside Fort McHenry: Festival Village in Inner Harbor; live music; cooking demonstrations; ship visitations; reworks; Blue Angels air show; and activities in Fells Point, Canton, and along the waterfront. This year’s event was marketed more as a city event than an Inner Harbor or Fort McHenry event.
During the Spectacular, MOEM provided the overall coordination that enables each individual agency to focus on their roles and responsibilities. “We operate as the ‘rolodex of the city’ – we know everyone, we see the overall picture, and we know all the players involved. Then, with our personalities, staff, and capabilities, we are able to bring everyone together,” said Bovaird. With more than 80 agencies, 15 planning groups, and many moving parts, MOEM focused on the event as a whole and how the different parts work together.
“At no point would I ever tell someone that I’m in charge of the event or the planning. I was a catalyst to help everyone maintain their own commands and that is the key. If anyone at any point felt a loss of control over authority or operations, then I would have been completely ineffective. I don’t work for their agencies, so I can’t tell them what to do. It is about management and leadership through influence rather than through mandate,” said Bovaird. Of course, some people may not want to work with other agencies, but there must remain a collaborative and influential process.
With the quantity of visitors and number of events within the overall celebration, there were relatively few issues reported. A visit from President Barack Obama resulted in schedule changes and logistic issues as people moved into and out of Fort McHenry. Because no exact time for the visit could be distributed, agency representatives had to be able to adjust at a moment’s notice. Additionally, cloud cover changed the way the Blue Angels could fly, so the show was much lower than planned, resulting in 36 noise complaints to the 311 call center.
When planning for any special event, it is not possible to think of every scenario that could possibly occur, but the key to success is adaptability. The traffic plan for Locust Point did not take into account all of the vehicles that were going to filter out of Fort McHenry following the fireworks display on the Friday night of the event. Traffic was backed up downtown as expected, so Fort Avenue traffic had nowhere to go. CSX police identified the problem, brought it to MOEM’s attention, and then worked with the Baltimore Police Department to open a section of Fort Avenue that leads directly to highway Route 95.
That road was closed and used as a bus depot during the event, so it took some time to reopen it to the public. This traffic pattern change was implemented into the plans for the next evening. What seemed obvious in hindsight was lost in the many moving parts, but operational flexibility was the key lesson learned. “I knew we weren’t going to plan for everything and couldn’t catch everything, but it’s awesome to work with people that are adept enough at their jobs that they can identify an issue, then coordinate and collaborate to x it,” said Bovaird.
Building Interagency Preparedness Efforts
Coordinating and collaborating for large-scale special events and incidents include training such as ICS courses for people who have not already had them and operational training on the command process. For large-scale events in Baltimore, MOEM facilitates many independent meetings, mid-level planning meetings, and a final planning meeting, or “dress rehearsal,” to share how the operations will proceed, to coordinate site visits if needed, and to conduct tabletop exercises.
Sometimes, trainings can be orchestrated within events. For example, at Preakness, the Baltimore Region Incident Management Team took advantage of the opportunity and ran a functional exercise while members of the team were on standby during the event. Routine events also can serve as infrastructure exercises. For example, the CityWatch camera system is primarily in place because of special events that cover a large footprint of Baltimore City. “If we do special events right, the only difference in the command room from an emergency incident is that the feel or climate for an event tends to be slower paced, giving agencies and players a chance to connect with each other,” said Bovaird. At every event, for example, the police and fire representatives have the opportunity to learn how the cameras are used and how other agencies can employ them in the future.
Representatives from various agencies have their own focus areas with related goals and responsibilities, which sometimes can lead them to address only immediate problems. For example, during one evacuation tabletop exercise, a fire chief at the table said, “I don’t care where they go, we’re just going to get them out of there.” Although getting the people out of the affected area is important, there needs to be consideration of where they are going to go, how they are going to get there, how they are going to get back to their families, how to let their families know where these people are, and so on. Without thinking three, four, or five steps ahead, the incident footprint could expand rapidly. MOEM personnel are trained to look at the big picture, address issues outside the departmental silos, and unify the city’s planning efforts.
Catherine L. Feinman
Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 30 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and the DPJ Weekly Brief, and works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.