Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and his top emergency advisers ran through procedures and other response scenarios Friday morning as they prepared for what Glassman called a "Top 10" snowstorm expected to hit Harford by late afternoon.
Glassman also signed a local the declaration of emergency while meeting with county government agency directors at the Department of Emergency Services headquarters in Hickory, just north of Bel Air.
Weather forecasters say the first major snow storm of 2016 will be "a threat to life and property," with up to 2 feet of snow and high winds, according to the National Weather Service.
"The latest forecast doesn't sound any better," Glassman said. "It's going to be a Top 10 storm."
With Glassman present, emergency officials also held a "tabletop exercise," in which they discussed the various storm-related duties of each county agency, ranging from procurement to public works to information technology to economic development, as well as what should be done to have their employees prepared.
Harford Emergency Manager Rick Ayers and Emergency Services Director Edward Hopkins, warned everyone that they and other employees should prepare for a long weekend, one that could involve sleeping over at the DES building.
Those assembled were likewise advised to be prepared to field multiple inquiries from residents who do not have power or heat, or have an emergency, or in some cases just want to talk to somebody.
"The questions will be unending, and there will be all kinds of questions," Hopkins said.
Ayers shared lessons he learned while dealing with the 2010 blizzards, such as the need to get local businesses up and running as soon as possible, since being closed for five to six days can cause harm to the local economy.
"Not only do we need to worry about our citizens, but we need to get our businesses up and running too, as quickly as possible," he said.
Ayers said he had planned Friday's exercise about six weeks ago based on a fictional scenario of a major snow storm hitting the county, and this weekend's storm bears a striking similarity to that scenario.
A statewide emergency declaration, signed by Gov. Larry Hogan, went into effect at 7 a.m. Friday. The county's declaration allows Harford officials to apply for state and federal reimbursements to cover local costs before, during and after the storm, as well as request Maryland National Guard assets to assist firefighters, police and EMS workers responding to calls for help.
Ayers said he filed a request with the Maryland Emergency Management Administration Thursday for six National Guard Humvees and three "high clearance vehicles" to assist firefighters and other first responders.
Ayers said county officials are currently waiting on confirmation from the state. He noted National Guard vehicles were used frequently when Harford County was dealing with back-to-back blizzards in 2010.
"We deployed those assets 78 times for assistance in Harford County during the blizzards in 2010," he said, which produced an all-time record snowfall in central Maryland.
Ayers said his greatest fear with the storm is extensive power outages and residents, especially elderly people, being cold and without power. He encouraged people who do not have power to contact the hotline and coordinate getting to a shelter if needed.
County Attorney Melissa Lambert said the emergency declaration gives the county access to state and federal resources, plus financial aid, and it clears the way for the activation of the county's "state of emergency plan."
"It allows for a coordination of services, all of the services and all the agencies that we will need to respond to this type of an incident," she said.
Lambert said the state declaration allows the governor to, if needed, suspend local laws, order evacuations and allow government officials to "take over private property for a certain amount of time because of a specific need."
County leaders participated in a conference call Friday with MEMA and the National Weather Service as local and state officials across Maryland made final preparations for a storm that is expected to affect multiple states in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern U.S.
Snow is expected to start falling in western Harford County between 3 and 5 p.m. Friday and the rest of Harford, plus Cecil County, between 5 and 7 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
The bulk of the snow, mixed with sleet, should fall between Friday night and Saturday. Winds are expected to be coming from the northeast with gusts of up to 40 mph along the Chesapeake Bay and up to 25 mph in central Maryland, according to the forecast.
County residents can call a hotline, 410-838-5800, starting at 7 p.m. Friday for any non-emergency needs. Call 911 in case of an emergency, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.
Residents also can download county apps to track snow plows and report any repairs needed to public infrastructure. The county government will also post updates on social media.