County police name emergency-management leader

27-year veteran Blizzard first to hold new position

November 26, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Lt. Mel L. Blizzard, who led last year's hostage negotiations with killer Joseph C. Palczynski, is the new emergency management coordinator for the Baltimore County police.

In the job, created by Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, Blizzard will oversee police response to disasters ranging from tornadoes to nuclear attacks. He will review the department's training procedures and equipment and draft a list of sites that might be targets for terrorists.

"It is just one more change in the landscape because of Sept. 11," said Bill Toohey, a police spokesman. "There is a great new understanding of the importance of emergency preparedness."

Blizzard, who also commands the county's hostage negotiation team, started his duties Nov. 5.

"We already have a county emergency plan that has been in effect that works well, but we just want to look at things all over again and make sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed," said Blizzard, who earns $81,000 a year in the position.

Although the 27-year police veteran is responsible for maintaining the department's disaster preparedness, he expects much of his job will deal with terrorism-related issues.

But Blizzard acknowledges it is more likely that terrorists would strike a large city instead of Baltimore County, but said that does not diminish his job.

"What do you do if they evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from Baltimore or Washington?" he asked. "They have to go somewhere."

Blizzard said his priority would be to make sure police efforts during crises are coordinated with county fire and health departments and with state and national emergency management agencies.

The lieutenant will work in the department's Support Operations Division. He will have an assistant, who has not been named.

Soon after taking the post, Blizzard reviewed the department's response to the more than 600 suspicious-substance calls the county's 911 line received in the past two months. He concluded the department handled the calls well.

"We never had anything like that before," Toohey said of the anthrax scares. "We had patrol [officers] involved, we had the bomb squad involved and we have to make sure we are all on the same page."

Toohey said Blizzard was chosen because of his record in starting new operations and in handling crisis situations.

Blizzard has spent most of his career in the drug unit. He was the unit's commander from 1995 to 1998, when he left to lead the hostage negotiation team.

Blizzard also launched the department's Workplace Violence Initiative in January last year. The initiative is a series of workshops for area business leaders and employees.

In March last year, Blizzard oversaw the hostage negotiation team during its five-day standoff with Palczynski, who held a family hostage in Dundalk after killing four people. The stalemate ended when two of the hostages escaped and police shot and killed Palczynski.

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