Ocean City Today

Proactive disaster approach

By Greg Ellison | Mar 29, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald stresses the importance of community preparedness for natural disasters, while Tony Lee, Delaware Emergency Management Agency principal planner, takes in his thoughts, during a seminar sponsored by the Community Associations Institute Chesapeake Region Chapter at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel, 10100 Coastal Highway, last Friday.

(March 30, 2018) Although local, state and federal agencies will help during a natural disaster, community preparedness is even more critical to survival, experts said last week.

Self-reliance was the recurring message of a panel of state and local emergency management officials at a seminar sponsored by the Community Associations Institute Chesapeake Region Chapter at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel in Ocean City last Friday.

Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald offered this summary at the session: “Failing to plan is planning for failure.”

Hitting a similar note was Fred Webster, Worcester County emergency services director, who stressed the importance of individual accountability.

“You can’t predict the next disaster, but you can plan for it,” he said.

The state’s emergency management director, Russell Strickland, said residents should begin their plans by obtaining the contact information for their local emergency managers.

“That’s who coordinates and facilitates everything that happens from a preparedness perspective within your jurisdiction,” he said.

Disaster response starts locally until resources are expended, Strickland said, at which point the effort escalates to include state agencies, or possibly the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“If you end up seeing me, it’s a really bad day,” he said. “If you see someone with FEMA on their jacket it’s an even worse day.”

Strickland, whose agency coordinates disaster relief responses from multiple state departments, said the areas of focus are disaster risk reduction and consequence management.

“It’s not sexy like response is,” he said. “It’s not rescuing people off the tops of buildings because the water level has gone so high.”

Strickland said federal statistics indicate every dollar invested to mitigate potential damage from natural disasters saves $6 during recovery time.

“That’s a pretty good return on investment,” he said. “I don’t hesitate to say … mitigation is the center of the universe.”

Strickland added that one of the first things residents need to do is check their insurance.

“If you’re not adequately insured you’re accepting that level of risk,” he said.

In addition, said Michael Powell, Delaware Flood Program manager, “If you get flooded than you’ve had a disaster whether it’s declared one or not,” he said.

The rates for insurance are based on flood maps and property elevations. Consequently, residents should check their properties’ elevation certificates, assuming they exist.

“If you live in a flood zone and your property was built in the last few decades [an elevation certificate] is probably what the insurance rates are based on,” he said.

Powell said the form provides legal descriptions of risk factors, such as floor heights, foundation type and predicted flood levels.

“These all impact flood insurance rates and the type of coverage you will have after a flood event,” he said.

In light of recent updates to flood maps, Powell advised residents confirm that their elevation certificates have been revised to reflect any changes.

Properties that are non-conforming to current flood maps would likely be restricted from replicating the previous layout, Powell said.

“Rebuilding the same structure may not be allowed or advisable,” he said. “You want to build for future flood risk not past flood risk.”

To further aid emergency response agencies, Webster recommended citizens attend Certified Emergency Response Training classes, which are offered throughout Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

Webster said the eight-week program, which involves one weekly three-hour class, is offered in Worcester County every fall and spring.

In addition to basic first aid and CPR instruction, Webster said the training also teaches proper fire extinguisher use.

Theobald said the training course enables neighbors to provide assistance within their community.

“The cavalry will show up … but it’s going to take a long time,” he said.

Theobald said the greatest challenge for emergency services is assuring the public takes safety advisories and evacuation orders seriously.

“Most don’t listen…until something really bad happens to them,” he said. “They try to come here so they can see the storm and have a party.”

For more information about Certified Emergency Response Training courses, visit the Maryland Emergency Management Agency online, mema.maryland.gov, or locally at co.worcester.md.us/departments/emergency and look for the CERT link.

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