Ellicott City workshop highlights emergency preparedness

The Ellicott City Historic District Partnership's Clean, Green and Safe Committee has spent a lot of time dealing with the "clean" and the "green," according to committee member Lori Lilly. 

Thursday night, it was time to address the "safe." 

To coincide with National Emergency Preparedness month, the committee hosted a free workshop for Ellicott City residents to provide tips on how best to prepare for an emergency. The focus was mostly on flooding -- a persistent problem in the old town -- but tips also touched on crime prevention and general disaster response.  

In short: "Because these events are not going to go away, what can we best do to deal with them?" Lilly said.

Tom McNeal, an emergency management specialist at the county's Office of Emergency Management, presented a five-step process that any business or resident could follow to develop their own emergency plan.

The process begins by examining risks and determining how to prevent them, which McNeal said was often a "no-brainer.

For example, a Main Street business owner might know not to place expensive equipment on the bottom rack of a basement shelf, but might not have communicated that to his or her employees. 

"A lot of it is just thinking through stuff," McNeal said. 

Next comes thinking through the plan's implementation in the event of an emergency, including delegation of responsibilities to employees or family members in the event of an emergency. McNeal said it's also important for business owners to make it clear they want employees to come in the day after an emergency. 

When 40 percent of businesses affected by a disaster don't recover, fast action is everything, he said. 

After developing an emergency plan, McNeal said, it's important to evaluate its effectiveness and improve it where possible, by conducting exercises and asking employees or family members for their input. 

"The more prepared you are, the easier it is for all the first responders" to help quickly and effectively when an emergency does happen, he added.

Preparedness extends beyond developing a plan, said Joy Hatchette, an associate commissioner for the Maryland Insurance Commissioner, the state agency that regulates private insurance companies. It's important to know what kind of help you can expect after a flood or fire, she said. 

Hatchette said it is essential to "understand what your policy covers, but more importantly what it excludes, because those are the things that at the end of the day you will be responsible for." 

Hatchette recommended knowing the percentage deductibles for each insurance plan and making a personal property inventory that's stored somewhere outside the home or business, so that it's not destroyed by a disaster. 

Bob Frances, director of the county's Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits, suggested home and business owners in Ellicott City look into additional flood-proofing measures, such as sandbagging around buildings before a flood. 

Though the workshop's turnout was sparse, some neighbors from Ellicott City's West End left the workshop with designs to flesh out an emergency preparedness plan for their stretch of the town, which was hit hard three years ago by flooding after Tropical Storm Lee.

Resident Wendy McCord suggested keeping sandbags and cinder blocks ready to buffer their homes and elevate furniture when a storm comes in. After the storm, she said, she'd be willing to put a dumpster in her driveway for neighborhood use. 

Neighbor Melanie Durantaye agreed with the idea. Whatever storms come Ellicott City's way, she predicted, the community would persist: "Those houses aren't going anywhere." 

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