Statement of Wicomico County Executive Richard M. Pollitt, Jr., on the Hurricane Irene Emergency Management Operation
August 29, 2011
The Wicomico County Department of Emergency Services’ mission is to be prepared to protect our citizens in the event of any type of disaster or emergency. As Hurricane Irene approached the county, it became abundantly clear to me that the department takes its mission very seriously. The overall response to the threat posed by Irene by Emergency Services and the departments and agencies with which it coordinates was magnificent. We were faced with a big challenge and we were more than ready for it.
I declared a State of Emergency for the county early on Friday morning. This included the issuance of an evacuation order for low-lying areas near the Wicomico and Nanticoke Rivers. 24 hours later, I ordered an evacuation order for the 13 mobile home parks in the county. We were in a full-blown emergency situation. This wasn’t “a test.” It was time for our team to go into action and, by all accounts, they performed brilliantly.
I could never list all the people that worked so hard to keep our people safe. I would, however, like to mention some of the individuals and groups that performed at the highest level before and during the emergency.
David Shipley has been the Director of Emergency Services since July 1st but he performed as if he had been leading emergency efforts for years. Dave spent almost every hour in his office with his staff from last Thursday until Sunday. He was the “go-to guy” for all of the activities involved during the period. He gave the order for the shelter to open at the Civic Center. He established the “Hurricane Hotline” phone number to keep Irene-related calls away from our 911 Center. He managed, organized and communicated tirelessly and skillfully.
In an event of this size, hundreds of responders are involved. Sheriff Mike Lewis and his deputies as well as the Maryland State Police were “on duty” throughout, not only keeping the peace but informing the citizenry of the evacuation order. Matt Maize of Social Services had the massive task of running the shelter at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center. He oversaw the feeding, housing and protecting of over 600 people and their pets who sought refuge. The disciplined efforts of John Culp of the Red Cross and Gary Mackes and the Civic Center staff were absolutely essential to the shelter’s smooth operation. I salute the Southern Baptist Church District Relief Organization for providing our guests with meals. I also thank the work-release from the Wicomico County Detention Center for setting up cots and furnishings at the shelter. And we can’t forget the Wicomico Humane Society who managed the animal wing of the shelter, allowing concerned refugees to bring their beloved pets with them.
Acting Public Works Director John Redden and the dedicated staff at Roads and Solid Waste should be recognized as well. They were critically involved in getting ready by opening dams and prepping equipment. Once the storm passed, they were out on our 720 miles of roads clearing away trees and debris. Mr. Redden wisely opened the Landfill at noon on Sunday to meet the needs of our citizens who were doing their own clean-up.
Frank McKenzie of Planning & Zoning played a key role in our communications effort by generating an easy-to-read interactive map for I.T. Director Ray Micciche to add to his already-bold county website announcement of the emergency situation.
County Fire Companies opened their fire houses to any citizen in need and also were “out in the storm” looking for ways to help.
As always, Governor Martin O’Malley and his staff were in constant contact with me and my staff offering assistance, as was Mr. Richard Muth, director of the Maryland Emergency Management Administration (MEMA).
I also want to extend my appreciation to WMDT-TV, WBOC-TV, WICO-AM and Delmarva Broadcasting, Clear Channel Broadcasting and The Daily Times for getting our communications bulletins to the public rapidly and accurately.
Finally, our excellent communications effort would have never succeeded without the training and dedication of Public Information Officer Jim Fineran who was involved from the beginning and managed the flow of vital information between agencies with skill and professionalism.
The list of “heroes and helpers” in the Irene operation is almost endless. I wish I could name everyone. I ask the citizens of Wicomico County to join me in saluting all of their fellow citizens who made a success out of a possible disaster. Thank you!