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Published:October 10th, 2005 06:32 EST
Baltimore: The City That Leaves  (if necessary)

Baltimore: The City That Leaves (if necessary)

By Yvonne Battle-Felton

Just last week, temperatures were in the high 80s and people were still wearing shorts. Tonight is a cold, rainy night.  Tomorrow's forecast calls for heavy downpours, with intermittent scattered showers and temperatures in the low 70s.  Next week? Who knows?  It is autumn in Baltimore, Md., and almost anything is possible.

Forecasters predict the future based on patterns. From meteorologists to bookies, the future is based on the past. Such is life. If nothing else, the past provides us opportunities to grow and enhance. Recent natural, as well as man-made, catastrophes have exposed the gap between resources and needs. Baltimore City agencies are taking the lessons learned from the loss of life and property caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to develop plans for future situations.    

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley is working with several Baltimore City agencies to update plans to protect, shelter and evacuate its over 636,000 residents in an emergency. According to the Baltimore City Fire Service, Emergency Warning Sirens will alert citizens of an emergency. Residents should then listen to WBAL radio 1090 AM and follow instructions provided by the Emergency Alert System.  These instructions will include precautions to take to secure individuals and communities, and information on where to go for shelter, if necessary.

 

According to Rick Abbruzzese, Deputy Press Secretary to the mayor’s office, the city will also use its comprehensive database to contact residents with the Reverse 911 system.  This automated system will call residents with instructions in a recorded message. Efforts will be made to reach each resident, especially the elderly, infirmed and homeless.  If necessary, personnel will go to communities and knock door to door, says Abbruzzese.

 

Each emergency is different, each emergency plan varies. Depending on the situation, the Baltimore City Fire Service advocates the “Shelter at Home” program.  A key component to this plan is the individual’s ability to stay safe in their own home. In a situation similar to the July 18, 2001 Howard Street Tunnel fire, which geographically affects a specific area, Abbruzzese points to the “relatively smooth” evacuation of segments of the population. In emergencies which affect multiple Baltimore communities, plans are in place to provide residents temporary shelter in some public schools and at M & T Bank Stadium, Camden Yards and the Baltimore Convention Center.

According to Abbruzzese, Baltimore City is planning to work with Baltimore County, Calvert County and Howard County to form Emergency Mutual Aid Agreement plans. He says the plans would allow the jurisdictions to send limited numbers of evacuees to different areas without stressing one county with an influx of the entire city’s residents. 

“No city ever wants to do a complete evacuation,” says Abbruzzese.  Recognizing the gap between wants and needs, Abbruzzese notes that the city is reevaluating evacuation plans.  If citywide evacuation becomes necessary, the Office of Transportation has erected bright blue signs with white arrows pointing drivers to major routes leaving the city. According to Adam Stolz, an emergency planner with the Baltimore Emergency Management Agency, evacuation plans will include means to evacuate the most “vulnerable population”, like Baltimore residents who are not fluent in English.  BEMA knows the city’s facilities and general population, the agency is in a position to use all of the available information to access other resources.  To evacuate the growing population reliant upon public transportation, the BEMA plans to work with the state to coordinate availability of public transportation such as the rail system, MTA buses and school buses, Stolz says. 

Information is a key to survival. According to Stolz, the BEMA is empowering residents to assist one another. Residents are trained to support their communities in a capacity Stolz considers as more than first responders. These individuals are trained to use their community resources-- each other.  Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT programs, train individuals to identify members of their community with special skills, as well as those with special needs. By sharing information before an emergency, these neighbors are able to make sure that those who need assistance in an emergency get it.

Stay informed.  Listen to the radio, read the newspaper, surf the net. Evacuation plans are living documents, they evolve based on necessity. Emergency information will be updated on WBAL radio and the web, but if the power goes out you will not have access to that information.  According to Abbruzzese and Stolz, among one of the most important items in your emergency supply kit will be battery powered AM radios. 

“In this day and age so many things are tied to electricity,” says Stolz. 

Do not let your survival be one of them.