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Maryland Governor Erhlich to Speak at Area Warning System Dedication

Wayne Powell

(11/21/03) Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., will join with Emmitsburg Town officials and other dignitaries for a dedication ceremony of a new Area Warning System being dedicated here on December 9th, at 2:00 p.m.. Emmitsburg Mayor James Hoover said, "Along with Town Commissioners Patrick Boyle, Clifford Sweeney, Joyce Rosensteel, and Arthur Elder, Town Staff, and the Vigilant Hose Company, we all are proud of this most significant safety advancement in Town history."

The Town of Emmitsburg is currently installing a new, advanced, and reliable system to quickly warn of potential life-threatening situations. Unique in many ways, the system is the first of its type anywhere in Frederick or surrounding counties. Like many communities of recent, especially since 9-11, and also in light of recent severe weather in this region of the country, Emmitsburg community officials will soon unveil a progressive system to substantially increase the Town's capability to provide adequate warning of pending major emergencies.

Now coming to fruition are several related initiatives that will better assure both life safety and property preservation by way of an outside community-wide emergency warning system. "While the essential concept isn't new, the unique approach being taken by this community is," said Hoover. "And, there are many important reasons to be able to effectively warn area citizens inside their homes, businesses, schools, and also those out of doors of pending natural or human-caused threats."

The system, properly known as a Mass Notification High-Power Voice and Siren System, is made up of outdoor warning speakers that can provide pre-recorded messages, allow for live instructions and/or sound alert sirens indicating that citizens need to immediately turn on their radios or TV's for specific insights regarding a pending emergency. It will operate on conventional or independent power and is radio-controlled. The system now being installed provides advancements over typical "air raid" type sirens that were commonplace in larger cities during the Cold War years.

Emmitsburg, too, has experienced substantial events, like major windstorms and also flooding conditions, with some doing significant damage and causing injuries. Examples include experiences back in the 1960's and again in the '80's when major storm damage occurred from severe winds. And, in the '90's it was flooding which required several daring water rescues to be made by area firefighters and many in the community experiencing major property damage. With major truck traffic traveling in and near town, the potential for a hazardous materials release is ever present, too.

Thus, for selected area or even mass evacuation, never before have Town authorities been able to accomplish an immediate warning quickly and efficiently when such was desperately needed. Now, such will soon be operational here. In the planning stages for well over a year, this new system can be a powerful life-saving tool just as it has been in other communities. In the aftermath of massive events in dozens of other communities across America, the one thing heard most often deals with what those affected wished they had in place prior -- a system like the one coming on-line here.

Only the second such system in Maryland of its type, it is believed that other communities in the area will be following Emmitsburg's example. The first community in Maryland to have this type of system was LaPlata, in Charles County. LaPlata officials had their system installed following the April 28, 2002, category F-5 Tornado which left a swath of destruction more than a 20-miles long, killing 3 and injuring nearly 100, at least 12 seriously. "We've invited LaPlata Mayor William Eckman to attend our Dedication Ceremony because he knows first-hand the value of this approach," Hoover said. Emmitsburg officials traveled to southern Maryland to visit with Eckman in order to learn about LaPlata's system.

Mayor Hoover has been spending a great deal of time in recent months coordinating numerous details to assure a fully functioning system. The system, engineered and designed for Emmitsburg by Whelen Engineering of Chester, Connecticut, can be activated both by the Frederick County Department of Emergency Communications, that includes the County's Fire / Rescue Dispatch Center, as well as from Emmitsburg itself. There is no budget impact on the county. According to Hoover, "the Board of County Commissioners has been most helpful in the planning process as have various county agencies. In the future, if other towns in the county wish to install similar systems they will be able to tie in easily as well."

Whelen is represented locally by Communications Electronics of Timonium. "While the system is expensive, the option of having nothing could well be far costlier," said Hoover. "We shopped extensively to be sure it would meet today's as well as tomorrow's needs. Whelen and Communications Electronics are well-respected in their field and their reps will be on hand to help answer questions on technical aspects of our new system," said Hoover.

Quick to realize the value of the system, United States Fire Administrator R. David Paulison said, "we had been looking for such an opportunity and given our role in helping communities and the nation prepare for major emergencies we were delighted to join with Mayor Hoover and the Town of Emmitsburg in installing a part of the system at the National Emergency Training Center."

Located on the southern edge of Emmitsburg just outside town limits, NETC is installing the system at their facility, too. Administrator Paulison, who also serves as the Preparedness Director in the new Department of Homeland Security and who was a former fire chief in Miami-Dade County, Florida, managed the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the nation's most destructive hurricane in history. According to Paulison, "just as Secretary Tom Ridge reminded many in Emmitsburg recently, the homeland can't be secure until the hometown is secure."

"Mount Saint Mary's College President Thomas H. Powell is actively seeking to learn what it would take to have the Mount campus included with the Town and NETC perhaps as early as next year," said Tom Kiniry, Director of Public Safety for the Mount. On board only a short while, already the new Mount President has shown his commitment to the sense of community by working closely with the Town on a broad range of matters.

"Regarding expense, the complete system in Emmitsburg will cost the Town about $102,000 while the portions of the system being installed at NETC is on the order of $30,000, identical to what the Mount is considering. NETC requires only a single site, as would the Mount, to cover their respective campuses while 3 separate sites are needed to assure coverage of the entire Town," Mayor Hoover said. "There will be only very minor inconveniences upon installation during system testing and we'll let everyone know by all means possible," he said. The system will also be tested weekly via a non-audible "paper test" but the Mayor is considering periodic audible tests so citizens know the system is operational and all will be reminded of exactly what it sounds like.

Joining with the Town for the dedication will be a number of county, state and federal governmental officials, too, with many having already expressed great interest in learning more about Emmitsburg's system and its operation for possible use in other communities. An actual test is planned during the Dedication Ceremony on December 9, which is being held at the Vigilant Hose Company, 25 West Main Street.

Local fire officials, too, have been involved in research and planning efforts for the system and Vigilant's Auxiliary will be providing light refreshments both prior to and following the dedication. Chief Frank Davis of Vigilant Hose said, "While I hope we never need to actually utilize it, the definition of luck comes to mind as being when preparation meets opportunity." Davis went on to say, "Fire Company President Tim Clarke and I both believe that it's a very worthwhile expenditure and our community will be prepared if we ever do need it." Both Davis and Clarke have applauded the Town's initiative of being proactive.

To supplement the warning system, the Town is also working on the development of an Emergency Preparedness Guide to be available free to all area residents and businesses. Upon completion, the detailed guide will be available from the Town Office and also via the Town portion of the community's web site, Informational brochures on disaster planning and preparedness will be available for attendees of the dedication.

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