PIKESVILLE – With Hurricane Floyd bearing down on Maryland, officials from about 40 government agencies, volunteer organizations and utilities gathered Thursday in the Pikesville bunker of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
The group acts as a brain center during disasters, collecting information from around the state and organizing efforts to send help where it’s needed.
They sat Thursday at long blue tables in a small terraced amphitheater in the bunker, focusing on television screens that showed local news, and meteorological maps projected onto screens in the front of the room.
Some sat hunched over maps and faxes, cradling a phone with their shoulders. Every few minutes another loud ringing would break the low hum in the room. A conference call every few hours kept counties in touch with the center and with the National Weather Service.
In more threatening situations there might be more anxiety in the air. But with Hurricane Floyd turning out to be less forceful than feared, the mood in the bunker Thursday afternoon was serious but not tense.
“It’s been a smooth operation,” said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman who has been present for a number of other emergencies.
The center’s work is not done yet. Shipley said officials would have to wait until the storm leaves and the flooding recedes to know the full extent of the cleanup that lies ahead in Maryland.
But he said the storm, “is probably better than a blizzard because there are fewer lasting effects.”
While MEMA will be conducting an assessment of storm damage over the next few days, officials are already saying that the storm caused fewer problems and much less damage than anticipated.
That is largely due to the fact that the storm moved through the state faster than predicted and it was farther to the east. School and business closures also helped keep the situation under control, said Shipley, as people did not have a reason to venture out into the storm. Gov. Parris Glendening also thanked residents who evacuated threatened areas early.
Center officials watched carefully as the storm unfolded in the state and responded where they could.
After high winds flipped a tractor-trailer on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge early Thursday, the center dispatched state police to enforce truck restrictions on the Thomas Johnson Bridge to Solomons Island. Other police officers responded to more routine events, helping disabled motorists along Maryland’s roads, Shipley said.
Center officials helped coordinate electric company responses to the 250,000 Marylanders who lost power.
But most counties had the situation under control and were only reporting the weather situation in their area, road closings and what actions they were taking to protect their residents.
St. Mary’s and Calvert Counties reported tides 3 feet higher than usual and Anne Arundel reported tides 4 to 5 feet above normal. Many counties, especially waterfront counties, opened shelters for evacuated residents.
Other counties reported flooded roads or roads blocked by downed trees or power lines. Havre de Grace officials reported hundreds of road closures.
In Queen Anne’s County, officials complained that motorists who didn’t have to be on the road were making traffic worse.
The National Weather Service had dropped most weather warnings by 5 p.m., after the bulk of the storm passed through the area, but it was still cautioning about possible flooding in Lower Shore counties.
Even though Floyd did not severely test the center, officials said their preparations paid off Thursday.
Shipley said the emergency command group conducts a number of drills throughout the year to make sure that everything runs smoothly in a crisis, as it did Thursday. The participants are experienced and know the roles they must play in the situation, he said.