Top Washington area elected officials conferred today by conference call, at the request of Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, to begin re-evaluating and strengthening emergency plans in light of concerns about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf region. The conference call was organized by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).
Duncan and the other area officials agreed to ask COG to help the region’s local governments, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia and key federal agencies re-evaluate the emergency coordination plans adopted since the 2001 terrorist attacks. COG led its member governments in creating the Regional Emergency Coordination Plan (RECP) after the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. The plan fostered improved regional coordination during Hurricane Isabel and a major snowstorm in 2003, as well as during events like the president’s inauguration.
“Frankly, I was disappointed and concerned about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina,” Duncan said. “Federal law enforcement agencies were there for Montgomery County when we were dealing with the sniper incident and because we all worked together, we apprehended the two men responsible for those murders. But if we can no longer count on quick assistance from FEMA and other agencies, we need to re-evaluate our plans,” Duncan said.
The officials voiced concerns about the speed and comprehensiveness of the federal response to the hurricane and stressed that while first response to emergencies is a top local priority, state and federal agencies must remain ready to aid local responders, especially when the local response is overwhelmed as it was in New Orleans.
“The National Capital Region has made great strides on emergency planning,” said Jay Fisette, Arlington County Board Chair, who also serves as vice-chair of the COG Board. “We’ve addressed health, communication and transportation issues. We are as prepared for and capable of handling an emergency as any region in the country,” he added.
Duncan highlighted the outcomes of the conference call earlier today as he and other regional officials participated in the launch of the Washington area’s “Be Ready, Make a Plan” public readiness campaign. The campaign will include advertising and community events during September, National Preparedness Month, designed to encourage area citizens to make emergency plans with their families and in schools and workplaces. The campaign will target residents, community groups and businesses.
In addition to Mr. Duncan, other top officials included: District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, Fairfax County Chairman Gerald Connolly, Loudoun County Chairman Scott York, and Prince William County Chairman Sean Connaughton. City officials included: Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz, Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis, Alexandria Mayor William Euille, Falls Church Councilmember David Snyder, Manassas Mayor Doug Waldron, and Manassas Park Vice Mayor Kevin Brendel. Other conference call participants included David Robertson, COG’s executive director, Robert Peck, President, Greater Washington Board of Trade, and Thomas Lockwood, Director, Office of National Capital Region Coordination, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.