Military call-up could pose staffing problem for county

Officials make plans to ensure services continue unabated

September 19, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Facing the temporary loss of as many as several dozen employees, including more than 40 police officers, in the impending call-up of military reserve units, Anne Arundel County officials have begun planning to deal with vacancies.

Because workers from trash collectors to firefighters could be required to leave their county jobs for military posts, officials have started working to ensure that trash still gets collected and 911 calls are answered, officials said yesterday.

"We don't want to have to scramble," said Matt Diehl, a spokesman for County Executive Janet S. Owens. "We're assessing numbers on a day-by-day basis to avoid a serious shortage."

Owens asked department heads yesterday to begin counting employees who could be called to active duty so the county can assess the potential effect on county operations. In this way, officials hope to get a better idea of how they might have to fill gaps by reassigning staff or asking employees to work overtime.

Thousands in Maryland are expected to be called to duty in what could be the largest activation of U.S. military reserve and National Guard units since the Persian Gulf war.

In Anne Arundel, where county government employs about 4,000 workers, public safety is a major concern, Diehl said.

In the Police Department, 47 officers could be called into military or National Guard service, said Lt. Joseph E. Jordan, a police spokesman. Seven officers have been called to active duty already.

So far, only a few county firefighters have been notified that they could be called to reserve or National Guard duty, said county Fire Division Chief John M. Scholz. About a dozen firefighters and paramedics have been sent during the past week to help federal search teams in rescue and recovery efforts after the terrorist attack at the Pentagon. Others remain on standby, Scholz said.

Police Department Deputy Chief Emerson C. Davis said some support staff and officers in special units might be reassigned to patrol units.

"In order to deliver basic service, we may have to move our resources around," he said. "We have minimum staffing guidelines that we'll continue to support."

The demand for public safety has never been greater, county officials said, in part because Owens has ordered tighter security at entrances to county offices.

She has also asked that all county employees be issued photo identification cards. Some employees already have them, but those who don't will be given ID cards, officials said.

County employees called into military service will receive their salary during the first 20 days of duty. After that, the law requires the county to give employees unpaid leave without the threat of losing their jobs, Diehl said.

Sun staff writer Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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