O'malley Plans Disaster Response

'Civic Guard' Would Coordinate Public, Private Actions In Emergency

July 16, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

When disaster strikes, a swift response from the private sector can be just as crucial as the government's response.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. famously sent water and other necessities after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, often before federal emergency workers arrived. And in Baltimore two years before then, amphibious Duck tour boats evacuated residents from flooded coastal areas after Hurricane Isabel.

To make the most of such charitable outpourings, Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to announce Thursday the creation of a "Civic Guard" to better connect disaster victims and first responders with businesses and nonprofit organizations that might be able to help with extra manpower or resources such as shovels and medical supplies.

The initiative allows private-sector volunteers to log on to Maryland Emergency Management Agency's Web site to submit information about what they may be able to offer during an emergency. While such public-private partnerships have proven invaluable in the past, this is the first time the state has formalized them in advance.

"This allows us to make these connections ahead of time rather than afterward when you have a lot of chaos," said Richard Muth, MEMA's director.

In prepared remarks for a speech before a summit in Baltimore on preparing for public health and safety crises, O'Malley, a Democrat, said the Civic Guard program "seeks to involve every citizen in the safety, security, and preparedness of the broader community."

Businesses and other organizations want to lend a hand, but often don't know whom in government to approach, said Lori Romer Stone, a coordinator with the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security that helped developed the initiative.

She said one model for the Civic Guard was an agreement between construction unions and O'Malley when he was Baltimore's mayor. That allowed heavy equipment operators to be pre-qualified to work at disaster sites, thus avoiding delays.

A system for credentialing Civic Guard volunteers has not been established, Muth said. But once businesses and nonprofits register, he plans to provide training opportunities.

The program will be initially funded through a $2.7 million federal grant that is intended to support coordination of regional planning for catastrophic events, according to the governor's office.

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