Disaster preparedness plan aims to align businesses with officials

County first in Md. to use federally funded program

Carroll County

September 02, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County will become the first community in Maryland to take advantage of a free federally funded program to prepare for natural or man-made disasters and is hoping to draw local businesses into the mix.

The sponsors want to attract about 100 participants to the program, under the direction of Michigan State University's School of Criminal Justice. The workshops will include police, fire and health officials, and nonprofit service groups that will brainstorm ways to prepare for a crisis.

It was the inclusion of businesses that struck William E. Martin, Carroll's emergency management coordinator, who has been working on the program since early January. He heard about it at a Baltimore Metropolitan Council meeting and checked out the Web site for the program, "Critical Incident Protocol: A Public and Private Partnership," known as CIP.

"The things I looked at kind of scared me," Martin said, recalling figures from the Web site that show that many businesses have no emergency plan. The CIP site says 47 percent of businesses that experience a fire or major theft go out of business within two years; 44 percent of companies that lose records in a disaster never resume business; and 93 percent of companies that experience a significant data loss are out of business within five years.

Martin contacted the program, and as a result, a kick-off session has been set for 8 a.m. Sept. 24 at Carroll Community College, which is a partner in the program with Martin's office and the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said Brit Weber, manager of the CIP program at Michigan State.

"The process is simple: Somebody calls us up and says, `We're interested,' " Weber said. "The program's available to any community in America."

The program consists of an overview session, two half-day sessions, then an exercise is planned, probably for next spring, in which the participants will scramble to figure out how they would react to a crisis.

"We have to be ready for it - just like real life," said Martin.

"Anything can happen in Carroll County: ice storms, tornadoes, flooding - any of the natural disasters that naturally happen, up to and including an earthquake," Martin said. "We try to be ready for anything, as well as throwing terrorist stuff in there, too."

Bonnie J. Grady, president and chief executive officer of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has signed on as a sponsor.

The chamber had been working on a similar program since December, after Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff commented that there should be a database about useful information about businesses available to police and emergency crews.

The result is BECI - Business Emergency Contact Information - a secure online registry for businesses to provide information such as layout, whom to contact, hazardous materials and other information.

Also, Grady said, businesses such as a lumberyard can note what they could provide in the event of an emergency such as a tornado.

"This is for all Carroll County businesses, not just members," she said of the BECI system. "So emergency preparedness is something the chamber has been interested in for some time now."

She said the board supported bringing in the Michigan State program.

The chamber announced the program in its newsletter this month to some 600 members and sent letters to executives of 40 major private employers in the county.

"The chamber's role is to get the businesses involved," Grady said.

Ten communities from Richmond, Va., to Redmond, Wash., have taken advantage of the program, funded by the Office for Domestic Preparedness of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Weber said. It is free to the communities and costs $30,000 to $40,000 in tax dollars.

The CIP program began in 2002 with four pilot projects, Weber said, but it arose from a 1998 program and 42-page booklet by Radford W. Jones, the CIP program director.

The booklet "was received so well wherever it was sent that the government approached us and asked us to develop a program," said Weber, a 26-year veteran of the Michigan State Police.

"We are in the talking stages of scheduling dates with about eight other communities," Weber said, which might include Rockville and Phoenix, Ariz. The program is funded through 2007, which should pay for about 39 communities.

"Each community has its own identity," Weber said. "You have no idea where it's going to go. Things pop out of the woodwork, and you say, `What a neat idea.'

"Some really outstanding things have happened," he said.

An official in a city of about 100,000 people revealed a serious flaw in the water system infrastructure that could have shut down the supply for three days, he said. But a food manufacturer was at the meeting and volunteered enough bottled water to supply most of the city for two days.

"The business community can bring in a lot of resources," Weber said.

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