Charles County is eligible for more than half a million dollars in homeland security funding, the most in Southern Maryland, according to an announcement this week by the office of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).
Of the $25 million in federal reimbursements for Maryland, Charles was allotted $553,200, followed by Calvert with $513,500 and St. Mary's with $450,400. The funding is intended for "planning, training, equipment and exercises to prevent potential acts of terrorism or other disasters," according to the governor's office.
"I wasn't expecting quite that much; that's good," said Don McGuire, director of emergency management in Charles.
The funding announcement coincided with a review of homeland security preparations in Charles by officials from the Sheriff's Office and the Emergency Services Department, who met with the county commissioners Monday.
As of this month, the county has received funding allocations totaling $1.5 million for homeland security and spent $399,000 on planning, training and equipment, including a decontamination trailer, hazardous materials detection equipment and a large emergency response truck that officials showed off for the commissioners this week.
Local authorities also have hosted 12 presentations to about 250 people throughout the county to raise awareness about how civilians could assist in the response to a terrorist attack, said Sheriff Frederick E. Davis (R). One goal of the sessions is to let people know that they should report activities that may seem suspicious to the police.
"As 9/11 shows us, these people are everywhere, they travel our roads, they travel our counties, they spread themselves out, and they actually find locations where they're least noticed. And we just need to be on top of that," Davis said.
Charles has finished its homeland security assessment and established common procedures with Calvert and St. Mary's counties so agencies throughout the tri-county area will be able to coordinate the response to an attack or major incident, officials said. If there were an explosion at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, for example, local authorities know to convene at the Calvert County Fairgrounds for briefing and to receive equipment, said Charles sheriff's Capt. Michael Wyant.
"We've standardized what our response is going to be in the event of a chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological event. Everybody's going to know exactly what they're to do," Wyant said.
Local authorities have also made several recent purchases to increase their ability to respond to disasters. Last week, the emergency management department finalized a purchase of more than $100,000 for equipment to mitigate potential damage from an explosive device, McGuire said. If a bomb were detected, local authorities could place a protective device around the bomb and lessen the effect of the explosion, he said.
"We would normally have to wait for a bomb unit to come out of, maybe, Baltimore, to come down here," McGuire said. "If it blows, it's going to blow, and we can't stop it, but now we can keep it from causing a lot of damage."
Authorities also unveiled to the commissioners a 26-foot hazardous materials response truck. The white and red vehicle, emblazoned with the head of an eagle over an American flag, cost about $180,000 and is intended to carry decontamination equipment for a response team.
The sheriff's department also purchased a 26-foot boat for $84,000 to deploy in case of an emergency along the county shoreline or on its rivers and creeks, said Davis. He said that if the federal security threat level rises, state Department of Natural Resources police would probably send boats to the Chesapeake Bay or near Calvert County, leaving Charles County shores unguarded.
"I did not want to get a watercraft by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "But it was just one of those things that we had to jump up to the plate and say, if we're not going to have anybody here, then we're going to have to use our own resources."
Commissioner Wayne Cooper (D-White Plains) asked if plans had been established to feed thousands of people if a large group had to congregate away from a toxic event.
McGuire said that in an emergency the plan calls for dispersing residents on different roads out of the county or sheltering them in buildings that can accommodate many people, such as churches. As for feeding large groups, he said, the details have not been worked out.
"That's probably one of the weak links in the whole chain. We're finding places to put people, but feeding them is going to be a major problem."