HAZMAT equipment
Mike Brunucke, Harford County HAZMAT team lead, briefs RDECOM staff members on equipment used in emergency response.

FOREST HILL, Md. - Rick Ayers has one of the most listened to voices in Harford County.

As the county’s emergency operations center manager, Ayers’ voice is heard whenever an emergency message is communicated to more than 92,000 Harford County residences.

“Our emergency notification system is a web-based system that relies on the internet if available. However, if not, I can use a phone card as a backup to make the required notification. Also, I can make these calls from anywhere at any time,” Ayers said as he briefed 20 U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command leaders visiting the EOC June 8.

He said the notification system does not reach residents or organizations at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

“Our contract does not allow for people at APG to be part of the system,” Ayers said. “Therefore, it should be stressed that if people live in the county -- which includes APG -- they can go to our web-site and load their personal information.”

The EOC messages, to announce impending severe weather or other emergencies are automatically pumped to residential landlines in Harford County. Residents can go online to add cell phone contact information, if desired.

Visit www.harfordpublicsafety.org or call 410-638-4029 to add your cell phone to the Harford County emergency notification system.

In an hour-long session with members of RDECOM, Ayers stressed three focus areas of the EOC.

“Preparedness, prevention and mitigation drive most days around here,” he said

Ayers said that training and exercises for his staff are constants, and one is scheduled with APG. RDECOM Chief of Staff Col. Kirk Benson and Operations Officer Col. Cris Boyd discussed possible scenarios and exercise timeframes at the end of the two-hour visit.

“Hurricane Katrina provided a lot of lessons learned. For example, Katrina taught us a lot about the range of emergency operations, such as debris removal, the housing of volunteers and victims, and the need for evacuation plans, including animals. Lots of people won’t evacuate without their pets,” Ayers said.

The EOC manager stressed relocation planning.

“You have to take planning seriously,” he said. “Relocation planning is vital, as are contingency operations for organizations.”

Though Harford County has not been hit by a major hurricane, the storm surge from Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and “Snowmageddon” in 2010 serve as recent reminders that all county residents need be remain vigilant and prepared.

“When the warnings go out, people need to be aware of what’s happening and prepare accordingly,” Ayers said. “For example, at the first warning people should fill their vehicle’s gas tank, get some cash and secure their papers and valuables. They should refill medications and fill available containers with water. They should protect their windows and help their neighbors do the same.

“It’s important to do as much as you can before the 24-hour warning is issued,” Ayers added. “Waiting until you have 24 hours to complete preparations and evacuate if you are required is not enough time. This is why emergency planning is so important.”

Page last updated Fri June 10th, 2011 at 11:55