Emergency staff head to Gulf Coast

County sends medical, communications personnel

September 07, 2005|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,SUN STAFF

About 20 emergency response and communications personnel from Anne Arundel County arrived in the Gulf Coast area yesterday, adding to the Maryland contingent of doctors and nurses that is providing relief to the hurricane-stricken states.

The county group will use its new Mobile Command and Control Unit truck to link the communications systems of emergency personnel providing relief efforts in Jefferson Parish, an area on the southern edge of New Orleans.

The 27-ton, $820,000 truck will enable different agencies - such as the National Guard, Jefferson Parish police and hospital workers - to talk to each other through different media, such as satellite phones, cell phones and walkie-talkies.

Primarily, the command and control unit will assist more than 100 doctors, nurses and emergency responders organized by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Service Systems to fill in at hospitals as thousands of residents return to the parish.

The Arundel group left Monday, a day after a team of 100 people and 40 vehicles from Baltimore, as well as 80 firefighters from Montgomery and Howard counties, headed for the New Orleans suburb of Gretna. All groups are required to be self-sustaining, meaning they must have sufficient food, gas, sleeping gear and other supplies to last for about two weeks.

The request for the truck and support personnel came through the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, which got the request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA will eventually cover the expenses, said Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"I had to hold back my guys," Owens said, noting that many county firefighters were ready to leave a week ago. "But we were not going to go until we had the federal involvement. Everyone wanted to help, but sometimes you can be overwhelmed with help if it's not coordinated properly."

Owens said the county has informally received requests for more personnel, and she expected much of the help would come from the Public Works Department.

"We've seen from the [Tropical Storm] Isabel experience that debris management is a massive undertaking," she said. "Back then, we had to use all 800 of our public works folks to repair the basic infrastructure."

Owens said the county would do all it could to help without jeopardizing safety and emergency preparedness here, noting that hurricane season is only about half over.

The four-vehicle convoy included 15 county employees, from Fire Department personnel to master electricians, and five private-sector communications workers.

Meanwhile, area hospitals were responding to requests from the Maryland Hospital Association, which, with the American Hospital Association, is gathering volunteers from all over the country to send to the Gulf Coast.

Officials from Baltimore Washington Medical Center said they are in the process of responding to the Maryland Hospital Association's request. Margot Mohsberg, spokeswoman for Anne Arundel Medical Center, said they have yet to receive a request, but are willing to respond.

Sun staff writer Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

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