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Towns have various ways
of dealing with disaster

Thurmont officials still working on developing an emergency plan

Ingrid Mezo

(3/16) Much has been made of Thurmont as a potential target for terrorist attacks due to the town’s proximity to Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Despite that, the town currently has no concrete emergency management plan.

Thurmont Police Chief Greg Eyler recently began working on a plan for preparing town residents and the police force if disaster strikes.

‘‘Maybe a terrorist would say let’s hit Thurmont to show how close we can get to Camp David or [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]," Eyler said. ‘‘Just the fear factor is what they want — they could contaminate our water supply or set off a bomb in town."

While working at the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Eyler helped develop a terrorist incident plan for that organization. Developing an emergency management plan for the Town of Thurmont is going to be a ‘‘work in progress forever," he said.

The police department will work together with fire and ambulance companies, as well as town staff to develop the plan.

‘‘We’re going to work out [how to handle] vulnerable infrastructure, such as electric, water supply and get the proper equipment for all personnel," Eyler said. ‘‘We’re going to have to train everybody on traffic and crowd control, and the public works people on how to help restore normal conditions. We’re also going to work on how to conduct search and rescue missions."

In addition to training police officers in how to respond to an emergency, Eyler has plans to eventually offer training for residents.

Without a concrete plan in place, Eyler said he believes the town will still be able to handle an emergency.

‘‘When a disaster hits in this county, I’ve noticed that everybody comes together," Eyler said. ‘‘There is no fear in my mind that we couldn’t handle it. People have common sense, and it’s mostly a question of do we evacuate or do they shelter somewhere."

Emmitsburg’s proactive approach

The Town of Emmitsburg has the most comprehensive emergency warning system in Frederick County, according to Jack Markey, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Brunswick is the only other municipality that has its own system, and the county is working with town officials to improve it. Other municipalities rely on emergency broadcasts the county puts out over the radio and television stations.

Markey said a municipality’s need for its own emergency broadcast system should be determined on a case-by-case basis, and Emmitsburg’s makes sense. The National Fire Academy, the National Emergency Training Center and Mount St. Mary’s University are all near Emmitsburg, and all attract many people from out of town, Markey said.

There have been several tornadoes in the past few years that caused significant damage just miles away from the town, and trucks carrying hazardous materials also periodically drive through, Mayor James Hoover said in interview in September, just after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

‘‘It’s just a matter of being proactive," Hoover said. ‘‘From the lessons we’ve learned from other events, we can’t wait to be having accidents to figure out how to respond. We need to be prepared in advance."

The town’s system activates in an emergency with a siren to alert residents. One of five recorded announcements or a live message is then broadcast through speakers in three locations. The speakers are mounted on 50-foot poles in Silo Hill Park, in a cemetery on West Main Street and in the community park just below the swimming pool, Hoover said.

The Vigilant Hose Fire Company, the FEMA center in Emmitsburg and Frederick County Central Dispatch are all tied into the system, and are responsible for activating it during an emergency.

Emmitsburg’s warning system is solar powered, and is equipped with a three-day battery backup in case something happens to the solar panels. The emergency warning system has been employed twice since being installed.

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