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A constant stream of work for emergency management personnel

Souders
Souders (Carroll County Times)

Their cellphone ringtones are always on loud. Emails are constantly piling up in their inboxes, even at 3 a.m. They attend meeting after meeting and review plan after plan.

There's one detailing protocol for large-scale fires. And another for hazardous materials incidents. And threat identification. And emergency operations. The Carroll County Office of Public Safety Emergency Management team crafts them all.

If there's an airplane crash, tornado or hurricane or an active shooter at a school, they take control of the situation.

The team of four doesn't know what a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday would feel like.

James Weed, Marianne Souders, Matt Miziorko and Kendra Lindenberg are the county's emergency management personnel, working weekdays and weekends, nights and holidays. And that's when there's not an emergency.

"We're constantly busy, changing hats," said Souders, the office's emergency management planner. "Every day is different."

During Superstorm Sandy, the emergency management team led an emergency operations center, a 24/7 hub of officials from various local and state agencies from police to Baltimore Gas and Electric to health department officials.

Facebook pages were updated, emergency shelters were opened, a web of damage in the area was mapped, information on road closures was disseminated to the public.

For many, emergencies, such as Sandy, are what come to mind when they think of the Office of Public Safety emergency management team's job. Yet there's a steady stream of planning that occurs every single day, according to Souders.

"The general public doesn't realize the back story," she said.

On a day-to-day basis, they're working on those copious emergency plans that typically have to be updated every three years, among other things.

"Some of these documents take over a year to figure out and meet and work out the logistics and put into text and review and get approved," emergency management coordinator James Weed said, "and then another year to develop an exercise to test all of that."

"You're never, ever done," Souders chimed in.

Crafting the plans doesn't mean sitting at a desk and writing down what their emergency management team members think, Souders said. Rather, it's meeting after meeting of collaboration and coordination to make sure the office has the most comprehensive plan.

Then, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners must approve the plan.

If they aren't updated within the mandated time frame and the commissioners haven't approved the plan, then federal funding could be affected, Souders said.

It's a cycle. Because once the plan is approved, officials have to be trained on the new guidelines.

"There's a building block approach to testing," Souders said.

Aside from going through a large-scale, multi-agency collaborative staged situation, the various agencies also get together to have discussions on various scenarios, known as "tabletop exercises," Souders said. The county has tested out what it will do if there were a shooter in a school or if an earthquake occurred in Carroll County.

Additionally, they'll perform functional exercises. This means they'll test a certain agency's response to an emergency, such as the way the school system handles an active shooter scenario.

Regional and statewide exercises are also held, Souders said, "because we all have to be able to work together."

After the testing is done, the shortcomings in the plan are identified in an after-action report, Souders said. From the report, Souders said the team makes corrections to the plan.

During longer weather-related emergencies, such as Superstorm Sandy, the employees are running on almost no sleep. But the work isn't done once the rain stops pouring and the winds stop howling.

They'll hold a discussion with different agencies to discuss how the situations played out and then host an after-action conference to help develop a larger report.

"The ultimate goal is to get a corrective action plan out of it to get better for the next time," Souders said.

Additionally, the four Office of Public Safety emergency management personnel are charged with public outreach. For example, it helped plan an expo at Home Depot in August that showed off rescue vehicles and mobile command centers to the public.

Demonstrations were given, such as how to extract an entrapped individual from a vehicle and how the K9 police dogs ward off attackers.

They also sit on committees for the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a federal grant program from which the office receives the majority of its funding, Souders said.

These committees help make decisions on what areas funding is disseminated, such as planning and sheltering; technology planning and more.

"We're here for Carroll County," she said. "This is what we do. But it extends way out."

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