Mock hurricane to test preparedness of Md. respondersPolice officers, firefighters, medics and citizen volunteers will participate in the mock storm to safely transport residents away from the shore
By Elisha Sauers
EASTPORT, Md. — The city is preparing for "Hurricane Anna," a Category 2 storm that will make Tropical Storm Isabel look like a drizzle. Officials can only hope that by today, when Anna is expected to make landfall in low-lying Eastport, first responders will be able to mobilize residents quickly and without incident.
Before resorting to Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" pandemonium, relax: This is only a drill.
Beginning around 8 a.m., police officers, firefighters, medics and citizen volunteers will participate in the mock storm that will continue through the early afternoon. The goal is to safely transport residents away from the shore to the Pip Moyer Recreation Center on Hilltop Lane.
Deputy Chief Kevin Simmons, the city's director of Emergency Operations Management, will lead the event. This is one of the upcoming exercises that will test the new emergency manual — a document that took more than a year to update and tailor to Annapolis. Within the inches-thick binder are response plans for crisis situations, including hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, flooding, terrorist attacks, heat waves, hazardous material contaminations, hostage situations and blizzards.
Simmons' team completed the revisions this spring, and department leaders were briefed on the new procedures during a series of workshops.
The city had relied on the county's emergency procedures plan. Though the county's manual became the framework for the document, the revisions allowed city leaders to devise procedures for Annapolis-specific needs, such as City Dock floods and traffic routes to evacuate downtown.
"This is the bible of emergency management," Simmons said. "This is how we do business."
Drill preparations have been under way since last week. City leaders on Friday received their first Blackberry notification that Anna (named after Annapolis) was churning over the Atlantic. The email advised that the tropical storm was bearing down on Bermuda. The scenario has the storm wreaking mass devastation in the Caribbean, growing in severity to hurricane status and charging up the coast in a straight shot to the Delmarva region.
"They'll have to make decisions on their own. It's not all scripted in here," Simmons said about the drill participants.
This week's exercise has been a long time coming. Officials attempted a hurricane drill last year but ended up having to take a rain check, so to speak.
"We were pre-empted by Tropical Storm Nicole, so we had to cancel it because we were in the middle of dealing with the real thing," he said.
The next opportunity to practice an emergency exercise came three months later when Simmons' team simulated a mass fatal-shooting drill at St. John's College. That event aimed to prepare college staff, city police and the fire department for a campus attack.
Next on Simmons' list is addressing a procedures plan for dam failure in Waterworks Park off Defense Highway. The water level for the leaking structure, which the city will either repair or remove, is currently being monitored by the Department of Public Works. If the dam broke, mass flooding and highway damage could result.
Simmons said while the city is maintaining the dam, emergency scenarios have a habit of testing Murphy's Law.
"We've got to be ever-vigilant," he said.
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