State Is Addressing Problems, O'Malley Says

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

A newly released study of Maryland's emergency preparedness faults the state for a range of organizational and management shortcomings that Gov. Martin O'Malley said his administration has begun to address.

Appearing at the Port of Baltimore, O'Malley (D) said the 116-page report by a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is a "tough, extensive assessment of both our strengths and our weaknesses."

Among the findings is that clear lines of authority and responsibility have not been established among three key components of the state government: the Office of Homeland Security, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard.

In addition, the study concluded that MEMA, as the emergency management agency is known, lacks an alternative site from which to operate if its headquarters in Baltimore County were unavailable.

It also found that the state's emergency management efforts lack a strategic planning process and a dedicated source of funding, leading to a focus on short-term strategies and a reliance on federal grants. And it concluded that the state does not work closely enough with local governments in planning for emergencies.

O'Malley said his administration has begun responding to the concerns raised by the study.

"Given the urgency of these issues, we did not want to wait until the report was completed and released," he said. "As issues were identified, we immediately started addressing those issues."

In May, O'Malley appointed Richard G. Muth, who had been the director of homeland security and emergency management for Baltimore County, as the director of MEMA. The administration has also designated two alternative sites for MEMA's operations and has been preparing legislation that would make the agency's director a member of the governor's Cabinet.

The study was conducted by the consulting firm operated by James Lee Witt, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The cost of the contract was $225,000, O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said.

In releasing the report, O'Malley talked about the state's security priorities. At the top of the list, he said, is a communications system that would link police, fire and other first responders from across the state. Some jurisdictions and agencies are already linked, but a statewide network is imperative, he said.

At the news conference, the head of the Maryland State Police, Col Terrence B. Sheridan, said a contract should be signed in coming months and that setting up the system is expected to take five to seven years.

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