WASHINGTON, DC –A special committee today unveiled recommendations to promptly improve the region’s emergency response, including a program with highly trained, regionally focused staff to ensure that area officials better coordinate decisions before and during major incidents. Based on its review of the January 26, 2011 snow and ice storm as well as input received from area stakeholders, the Steering Committee on Incident Management and Response found a need to improve regional situational awareness and coordination and communication among area officials. It also made recommendations on key issues such as employee release decisions, communication with the public, and backup power for traffic signals and critical facilities.
The Committee’s proposed Regional Incident Coordination (RIC) Program will monitor the region, distribute and redistribute relevant information, provide a picture of the regional situation, and initiate actions, including conference calls, which will allow for officials to better coordinate decision-making.
“When major incidents occur—whether the cause is a storm, earthquake, chemical spill or terrorist attack—local officials focus on their own jurisdictions because that is their primary responsibility,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews, who served as Chair of the Committee. “No one organization with information, capabilities and 24/7 operational support has the responsibility of focusing on the regional impacts of an incident or emergency, and that’s precisely what is needed and what the RIC Program will provide.”
The D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (DC-HSEMA) has offered to host and staff the RIC Program on an interim basis at its 24/7 Emergency Operations Center and will use federal homeland security grant funding available to the region. Area officials will work together in 2012 to assess its long-term organizational structure, staffing, and funding.
“The RIC Program is a proactive step toward better regional coordination and results, and the District of Columbia is pleased to help get the program up and running in time for the 2011-2012 snow season,” said DC-HSEMA Director Millicent West.
In addition to the RIC Program, the Committee also highlighted a number of actions currently underway or that need to be taken by individual groups, including:
- Employers should revise their release policies as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has done, take transportation conditions into account, and establish and expand telework and alternative work schedules.
- Area public information officers should use the soon to be launched Virtual Joint Information Center to communicate information to area residents. The web site, established by Fairfax County for the region, will be a one-stop shop linked to traffic incident information, emergency alerts, and other news from area governments and agencies.
- Transportation officials should make the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination (MATOC) Program an around-the-clock operation and continue efforts to make its real-time information available to public. MATOC was created in 2009 by the state departments of transportation and WMATA to share and coordinate their systems’ conditions and information management.
- Emergency managers should conduct exercises to test evacuation coordination and communication plans. While the Committee noted that the traffic gridlock on January 26 resulted from a compressed departure of employees rather than from an evacuation, communication between transportation officials and emergency managers needs continued testing in order to help manage similar incidents, and in rare occasions, evacuations.
- All jurisdictions in the region should expeditiously assess and install backup power at major traffic signals, which will maintain road capacity and help prevent gridlock during outages, as well as backup power at critical facilities like hospitals and emergency shelters.
The Committee noted that its recommendations are readily implementable and would achieve faster results than creating a single regional authority that would usurp decision-making control and accountability from area governments during emergencies. During his presentation to the COG Board of Directors, Andrews encouraged the regional council to accept the report and urge the implementing agencies to follow through on its recommendations.
The Committee was comprised of 19 area officials, including emergency managers, chief administrative officers, state transportation and WMATA officials, public information officers, and representatives of OPM, area electric utilities, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and the Red Cross. The COG Board formed the Committee in the wake of the January 26 snow/ice storm, which triggered widespread and many hours-long traffic gridlock and power outages that impacted thousands of residents. To view the full report, click here.