Measure could include Howard, Arundel in D.C.'s disaster plan

National Capital Region might widen under bill

June 05, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Howard and Anne Arundel counties could be incorporated into a disaster plan for the Washington region under a bill pending in Congress.

A homeland security bill that recently cleared the House would require the Department of Homeland Security to study whether the National Capital Region should be expanded to include the two Maryland counties.

"Howard and Anne Arundel counties are where many commuters live, and it's important that these counties be part of any coordinated safety plan if a terrorist attack should occur," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who inserted into the homeland security bill the provision calling for the change.

Cardin, whose district includes parts of Howard and Anne Arundel counties, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes.

In 1952, Congress defined the National Capital Region to include Washington, four counties in Northern Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland.

Cardin and another backer of the measure, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, said the definition of the region is outdated, considering that thousands of people commute daily from as away far as West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the Eastern Shore to jobs in the Washington area.

Many area roads have not expanded fast enough to keep pace with development in Maryland. Washington-area residents have the third-longest commutes in the nation, according to a survey by the Texas Transportation Institute, with an average of 69 hours a year lost to delays.

"There are an enormous number of commuters and tourists coming in and out of Washington," said Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Cardin. "When Congress created [the National Capital Region] in 1952, those issues weren't taken into account."

Federal employees, including military personnel, make up about 13.4 percent of the workers living in Howard and Anne Arundel counties. That percentage is likely to grow because the Pentagon has recommended, as part of its base realignment plan, adding about 5,500 jobs at Fort Meade, in western Anne Arundel County a few miles from the Howard County line.

Bartlett noted the recent evacuation of thousands of workers at the White House, the Capitol and other federal buildings when two pilots unknowingly flew a small plane into restricted airspace around the capital as a reason to develop a more regional contingency plan, said his spokeswoman, Lisa L. Wright.

The issue is significant for Bartlett because Frederick County, which he represents, has emerged as an affordable bedroom community for a growing number of federal workers, Wright said.

The homeland security bill, which passed by a voice vote in the House, has not been voted on in the Senate.

As part of the six-month Homeland Security Department study that is laid out in the House version, infrastructure in Howard and Anne Arundel would be evaluated to determine whether it is capable of handling a mass evacuation prompted by a terrorist attack, and the effectiveness of their police and fire response would be measured.

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