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Keyword: storm

Web feature enables residents to report issues directly to emergency managers

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that County residents will have a direct line to communicate storm-related concerns to the County’s emergency managers beginning this winter season. He made the announcement during the County’s annual winter storm exercise in the Emergency Operations Center, where representatives from County agencies and regional partners work together to coordinate the County’s response to a hypothetical severe winter storm.  

After last January’s record-breaking snowfall and extremely high call volumes that frustrated residents, County Executive Kamenetz directed County agencies to re-examine their constituent communication mechanisms for severe storm situations. At this morning’s press briefing, he announced Stormfighter, a new interactive web-based storm reporting feature on the County website that allows residents to self-report storm-related issues, rather than phoning the Department of Public Works (DPW). This system integrates with GIS mapping applications and provides real-time visual map-based data to assist DPW and emergency managers in responding to severe storms or other localized or regional emergencies. 

“We know how frustrating it is to be unable to get through on the phone, so our award-winning Office of Information Technology has created a new web feature that is very user-friendly and is the best way to communicate with us in case of a major storm,” said Kamenetz. “When we experience very heavy snowfalls, it is important that we communicate realistic expectations to our residents that it can take many days until crews can move from the main roads and get into the neighborhood streets.”

In addition, Kamenetz announced that the County has upgraded DPW’s phone system to greatly expand the number of callers held in the queue and to enable quick mobilization of call-takers to respond to any need with little advance notice. The phone system includes a function that will advise callers of their estimated wait time to speak with someone and will invite them to submit their concerns on the website instead of waiting on hold. Kamenetz explained that the new web-based reporting form available to the public is the same form as County call-takers will use to input callers’ concerns.

County officials remind residents that in cases of true medical or other emergencies, they should always call 911. During major storm emergencies, first responders coordinate with DPW and other resources to continue responding to fires, urgent medical needs and other emergency situations. 

Real-time updates available on the County’s website and social media platforms

Kamenetz also encouraged people to go to Twitter or the County website for Stormfighter updates. The County website offers the latest on road conditions, current plowing operations, winter storm tips and more at baltimorecountymd.gov/storm, which also includes Twitter updates from Baltimore County Emergency Management. These updates are also available on Twitter by using the Twitter handle, @bacoemergency.

The County Stormfighter web page now provides a link to live traffic camera feeds from the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART). It also offers a link to the County’s list of road closures, which provides details on roads that are currently closed due to repairs, accidents, weather or other hazards. This list is updated frequently, so people are advised to check back often for the latest status. State roads and interstates are not included. Information on those roads can be found on the Maryland Department of Transportation’s travel advisories and road closures web page at http://www.chart.md.gov/TravInfo/Default.aspx.

“The really big snowstorms can try all of our patience, and I am pleased that the County is taking these positive steps to better facilitate communication with our constituents during storm emergencies,” said County Council Chair Vicki Almond.


graphic of storm clouds with lightningCaptain Lonnie Ledford, Baltimore County Fire Department

A few weeks ago, in Part 1 of this blog, I covered thunderstorm watches, warnings and a few safety tips. Let’s pick up right where we left off, including some tips that apply just as well to the winter storms that are just around the corner.

Lightning rods attached to structures provide the safest pathway to ground for homes and businesses. If your home does not have one, the current from a lightning strike may travel via the home’s electrical or plumbing systems and could start a fire.  Also, remember to unplug sensitive electrical equipment such as computers and entertainment systems that are susceptible to electrical surges. You should seek shelter when the first rumble of thunder is heard, because if you can hear the thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning.  Also, remain inside for at least one-half hour after the thunder stops. 

Another electrical hazard that may be encountered in a storm is the possibility of downed electrical wires.  DO NOT try to approach or move these wires as there may be a ground current that could be deadly. If in a vehicle, do not try to drive over wires on the ground or under hanging wires near a roadway. Getting within several feet of a downed wire may cause it to arc.  If the wire is arcing or smoking, call 911 to report the hazard.

Downed power lines routinely lead to power outages in an area. Caution should be used when dealing with these situations as well.  Battery powered lights should be used instead of open flame candles and oil lamps due to their inherent fire dangers.  Portable generators produce deadly carbon monoxide gas that can build up and create a toxic atmosphere inside of a structure.  Several fatalities have been attributed to operating portable generators inside or too close to an occupied structure. Also, take care to utilize the proper gauge extension cords with the generator and do not overload them. 

Wind created by a severe thunderstorm can also be deadly.  Loose debris can be blown into the air and cause damage to structures and injure people.  If you do not have permanent mounted and operating shutters on your home, closing the blinds and drapes can provide a slight buffer against debris that may break and enter a window.  A heavy plastic trash bag or a tarp and duct tape should be available as a temporary repair in case of a window being broken during a storm.  Make a list of items that you want to bring inside in case of a severe thunderstorm.  Remember to include items such as plants, pool items, wind-chimes and flags.   Patio furniture, grills and items that are too large to be brought inside or cannot be placed in a garage or shed should be tied down and secured.  If there are large trees on your property they should be trimmed regularly to ensure that there are no dead branches that could be broken and fall in high winds.  Dead trees near a structure should be removed to prevent damage due to being blown over in a storm. 

Flash flooding commonly leads to flooded roadways. NEVER try to drive through standing or moving water. It only takes eighteen inches of water for a vehicle, including trucks and SUV’s, to become buoyant. Moving water can then push the vehicle sideways and it may rollover trapping occupants inside. When in doubt: Turn Around Don’t Drown!

Use easy to understand language to explain the sights and sounds that may be experienced by young children during a thunderstorm.  Once they understand what is making the “loud boom and bright light” outside, it may help reduce their apprehension and anxiety during a storm. 

Lastly, every home should have an emergency plan and an emergency kit that includes at a minimum:

·         enough food and water to last for 72 hours per person

·         a flashlight with spare batteries

·         a battery operated radio or weather radio

Severe weather planning resources can be found at:

·         The National Weather Service

·         Ready.gov

·         Baltimore County’s Emergency Management web site


 
 

Revised September 26, 2016