Storm Center Speeds Help

December 20, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

The call coming into Baltimore's storm center on Calvert Street sounded urgent: A city resident needed dialysis, but the clinic's bus couldn't get through her snow-covered street to pick her up for treatment.

"This is a person who lives on a street with two hills," explained Meghan Butasek, with the city health department. She ran through the details with an official in the conference room.

"So she needs her street cleared?" asked Scott Brillman, with the city's Office of Emergency Management. "We can clear her street."

He made a call. And moved on to the next crisis.

Such was the pace Saturday in Baltimore's Emergency Operations Center. While much of city's residents stayed at home, dozens of officials from city and state agencies worked at a U-shaped table talking to each other and prioritizing emergencies during the massive snowstorm.

"Anything that happens in the city happens from this place," explained Lt. Dawn Jessa, a police department official assigned to the center.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon dropped in several times, calling into radio shows from an office and walking the floor asking for updates - particularly about residents without power. At a 3 p.m. briefing, she learned that 51 vehicles had broken down, 2,391 tons of salt had been spread and no broken water mains. "Knock wood," she chuckled.

Transportation chief Al Foxx kept an eye on a screen that displayed colors indicating the frequency of primary roads being cleared. At one point Foxx did not like what he saw. Three zones - all in the Fells Point area - were shaded pink, suggesting nobody had cleared them even once in the past hour.

"Who is responsible?" Foxx demanded. "Find out who is responsible!" Within minutes the problem was solved: The roads had been cleared but a clerk had not updated the data.

By that time Foxx was on to the next problem. A bus was stuck at Greenmount Avenue and Eager street. He sent out a crew to pull it out of a snowbank.

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