Maryland search-and-rescue team dispatched to Texas

Hurricane Rita

September 23, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,Sun reporter

A team of Maryland first-responders has been sent south to prepare for relief efforts as Hurricane Rita heads for the Texas Gulf Coast, while other public safety officials and volunteers are preparing to ship out in case of devastation from the storm.

Maryland Task Force One, an urban search-and-rescue team that includes firefighters and physicians, was set to arrive in Dallas last night with 60,000 to 80,000 pounds of supplies. Meanwhile, the Maryland National Guard is awaiting orders to send troops south, and the American Red Cross of Central Maryland is training volunteers who could help out in post-Rita efforts.

"We haven't received any mission to send anyone down," Guard spokesman Maj. Charles Kohler said, explaining that Texas Gov. Rick Perry would have to request assistance from Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

There already are 168 guardsmen on the Gulf Coast working on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, and Kohler said ome of them could be shifted to help out after Rita. Other troops in Maryland are preparing for security, transportation and rescue/recovery operations if sent.

The Red Cross is planning to train about 100 volunteers at its headquarters today in Baltimore, spokeswoman Christen McCluney said. Those volunteers likely will be sent to a central location in Alabama and then could be dispersed to response efforts for Rita or Katrina.

"Usually it's 40 hours of training, but it's crammed into eight hours because the need is so high," McCluney said.

The 81-member Maryland Task Force One - including firefighters, physicians, veterinarians, hazardous-materials specialists and canine units - was called upon by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is one of 28 urban search-and-rescue teams nationally that is regularly deployed by FEMA during emergencies, said Peter Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service.

The team responding to Rita comprises mostly Montgomery County emergency professionals working alongside a few civilians and three firefighters from Anne Arundel County.

Both Baltimore City and Howard County, which deployed first-responders to the Gulf Coast this month, had no plans yesterday to send any teams in response to Rita.

Richard Muth, the director of homeland security and emergency preparedness for Baltimore County, said jurisdictions are responding to specific calls for help instead of just sending their employees to the region. That helps to ensure the safety of workers and to avoid overwhelming the Gulf Coast communities with personnel where they are not needed.

With Rita approaching, "it's up to Texas to request that assistance and up to us to find that assistance for them," Muth said. Because of Katrina, "everybody is ready to go again."

Medical teams from the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University were also getting ready yesterday to deploy if called.

Johns Hopkins' Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, which has a list of about 500 Hopkins Medicine staff willing to help in a hurricane, notified them in an e-mail blast yesterday that they should be ready to help on short notice. Volunteers are expected to put their affairs in order and keep cell phones or pagers with them.

At the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Donald W. Alves, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, was busy late yesterday afternoon composing an e-mail to certain university-affiliated physicians. He said he was seeking one volunteer from each of seven or eight emergency rooms to be ready to deploy Monday.

"Packing to be self-contained takes some work," he said. "We intend to be ready."

Sun reporters Greg Barrett, Julie Bell and Lisa Goldberg contributed to this article.

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