Treating Disaster Response Like a Trauma Patient

Ellicott City, Maryland after historic 2016 flash flooding.

Ellicott City, Maryland after historic 2016 flash flooding. MediaPunch via AP Photo


Connecting state and local government leaders

“We begin recovery the minute we start response,” according to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency's executive director.

WASHINGTON — Following a disaster, counties should immediately involve state government to expedite recovery, emergency management experts said Monday.

During a disaster recovery panel discussion at the National Association of Counties annual legislative conference in the nation’s capital, Maryland Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Russ Strickland explained the Old Line State has 26 local emergency managers appointed by the governor serving as on-the-ground representatives.

When Ellicott City, located near Baltimore, flooded in 2016 after seeing 6 inches of rain in less than two hours, Gov. Larry Hogan arrived within 12 hours to sign an emergency declaration.

“We begin recovery the minute we start response, and we treat it very much from the perspective just like you treat a trauma patient,” Strickland said. “You have that 60 golden minutes to get them into a trauma center.”

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said his jurisdiction still calls the governor, regardless of whether an emergency will wind up requiring a declaration, because the state executive’s presence frees local officials up to address resident needs.

MEMA set up a tent city of 60 to 70 people to start agile disaster risk reduction and consequence management, while Kittleman drove through neighborhoods on a Gator utility vehicle every evening to field resident requests like Dumpster drop-offs.

In Monroe County, Florida, which includes the Keys, the jurisdiction asked for state help quickly when Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, said Julie Beller, who served as Florida's state floodplain management coordinator during the disaster.

“Mitigation is so important,” Beller said.

Strickland recommended counties design their mitigation plans as if the community was rebuilding for resilience from scratch.

He encouraged county officials to invest in mitigation with the understanding “we won’t ever see the fruits of it in our lifetime” but that it will benefit future generations.

“The challenge with mitigation is that we don’t have a culture of preparedness,” Strickland said. “It is the long-term answer, but it’s just that; it’s long term.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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