Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. announced yesterday that they will work with local construction unions to develop a response plan to deal with a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
The executives, addressing a conference of the International Association of Operating Engineers in Baltimore, said they will work out agreements with the local chapter, firefighter unions and others so that construction firms can be prequalified to work at the site of disasters, thus avoiding delays. The plan would also provide for regional cooperation so the city and county don't compete for the same cranes, backhoes and bulldozers.
"We are creating, in essence, the Minutemen of heavy equipment so they can come in on a moment's notice in case of an emergency," O'Malley said.
Smith said such an agreement is an essentially cost-free way that local jurisdictions can improve emergency preparedness. Without buying more equipment or hiring more personnel, the Baltimore region can be prepared in a way Washington and New York weren't on Sept. 11, 2001, Smith said, because the legal issues associated with bringing in private contractors will be resolved ahead of time.
"There was some red tape up there and some delays," Smith said. "We don't want that."
J. Ronald DeJuliis, business manager of the Operating Engineers Local 37, said the idea is for local governments to make one phone call and get the equipment and manpower they need, rather than having to call individual contractors.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the international union has stepped up training efforts to prepare members to respond to emergencies, said union President Frank Hanley. Not only are members called to bring heavy equipment to the scene of a disaster but others do on-site maintenance work in large buildings. That means they could be called on to respond to a terrorist attack by shutting off water or elevators before firefighters get to the scene, Hanley said.
"This, to me, is very good, but I want to see follow-up," Hanley said. "I determine something being good by how many people are getting trained. All this is talk unless you have a program."
DeJuliis said union officials will meet with the city and county in the next two weeks to work out the terms of the agreement.