County emergency preparedness official Earl Stoddard said while the County is always preparing for a major storm or disaster it can never be fully prepared for a storm like Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas last week.
Stoddard, who is the executive director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the County office that focuses on emergency preparedness, said no local jurisdiction could handle a major natural disaster event by itself.
“There is no local jurisdiction by themselves that will be able to manage an event like that,” Stoddard said.
While the County is not as vulerable to hurricanes as the Southeast United States or as vulnerable to tornadoes like parts of the Midwest, Stoddard said in the event of a major disaster, the County and the D.C. metropolitan region would not be able to evacuate quickly given the region’s long history of traffic congestion along major corridors.
“We struggle getting people home at the end of the day, so we will absolutely have challenges trying to evacuate large amounts of people out of Montgomery Countyand the District of Columbia,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard said the County learned about its relationship with power providers such as Pepco in dealing with downed power lines and how to better prepare for storms by managing tree branches that can knock out power lines in storms.
Stoddard said the County is power-dependent and that he worries about the power outages, which historically have been frequent in the County.
While flooding was what caused most of the damage in Houston, flooding is not as big of concern in Montgomery County given the County’s elevation above sea level Stoddard said. Stoddard said he is more concerned about a potential disaster destroying the County’s dams and flooding the low plain areas of the County.
In the event of water rescue, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services has 200 personnel that are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s urban search-and-rescue task force, which includes people trained in swift water rescue, 28 of whom went to Texas last week in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“Anything a storm might throw at us we are prepared to deal with it,” said Pete Piringer, spokesperson for MCFRS.
Piringer said the 200 MCFRS personnel trained in urban search- and-rescue are trained not just in swift water rescue but some also have medical, engineering and technical rescue training.
Piringer said families should dust off any emergency plans they have this month in the event of a storm or disaster. Stoddard said the biggest lesson he learned from Houston was the capability of civilian rescuers who used boats to save people from their submerged homes.
Stoddard said he has mixed feelings about civilian rescuers, who are largely untrained and put themselves at risk, but said in the event of a disaster people should have a plan and be prepared to survive for 72 hours without rescue as emergency personnel will prioritizing saving people in immediate need for help.
“We don't have a million-plus firefighter and police officers so we have to focus those resources on the people who need them the most,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard recommend people sign up for Alert Montgomery, to get County emergency notices sent to them directly on their devices. Residents in the County can call 3- 1-1 to sign up for Alert Montgomery.