2023 NACo Achievement Awards: Spotlight on Maryland County Winners in Risk and Emergency Management

Introducing Our Celebratory Blog Series: Showcasing the Remarkable Achievements of Maryland’s Award-Winning Counties!

Join us on an exciting journey as we embark on a special blog series dedicated to honoring the exceptional accomplishments of the counties that triumphed in the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2023 Achievement Awards. Each week, we will shine a well-deserved spotlight on a few remarkable counties, delving into their accomplishments, innovative initiatives, and the profound impact they have had on their communities. Let’s dive in!

Risk and Emergency Management Program Awards

Montgomery County – A Human Services Response to Emergencies: Culturally Competent and Trauma-Informed Care

Nationally, the incidence of fire, floods, and structural disasters is rising.  Under the direction of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Emergency Preparedness, Response and Mass Care, the Community Action Agency (CAA) has joined with DHHS service areas, other Departments, and partners to assure that people displaced by disasters have equitable access to services. We are Maryland’s only county integrating this wraparound model within its disaster response.  CAA’s navigators work with Takoma East Silver Spring (TESS) Community Action Center staff work to address immediate needs and coordinate case management with department colleagues.  this collaboration ensures that residents affected by disasters have a single access point to available services such as rehousing assistance, privately raised donations, insurance assistance, shelter, and more.  This approach prevents victims who have suffered significant losses from recurring trauma every time they seek services.  The team’s culturally diverse members speak Spanish and Amharic and their training and knowledge about the community enables them to adeptly connect across the cultural divide and provide responsive care.  This team has worked on nine recoveries in the past year, rehousing and connecting 235 households with invaluable resources, never leaving them without care from the moment of displacement to after rehousing.

Anne Arundel County – Beyond Public Safety: Emergency Management Principles and Practices

In mid-January of 2022, the Anne Arundel County, Office of Emergency Management received notice of approximately 200 Afghan refugees in need of assistance within our county.  These individuals were staying in two extended-stay hotels in the county and were in need of some basic essentials and assistance with unmet needs.  This was due to staffing shortages with the non-profit that helped them settle here, and the high demand for Afghan refugee assistance.  The National Incident Management System emergency management structure was useful in providing resources to an issue other than a natural disaster and pandemic, and how coordination was conducted.  Our office collaborated with various non-profits, community groups, and other government agencies to assist with “filling the gaps”.  This collaborative effort has been a great success and we worked alongside community partners and our trusted volunteers to provide urgent and ongoing help to our newest residents. This unique effort has had incredible success and now this model is being used in neighboring jurisdictions in hopes to continue creating “Welcome Centers” wherever they are needed.  We supported these families with the utmost privacy using a wide range of resources and partnerships in a first-ot-its-kind for our county that resulted in all 200 Afghans being safely resettled with adequate resources to start their new lives in the United States.

Howard County – Command Unit Program

The Howard County Command Unit Program is comprised of specialized emergency response units designed to provide a centralized command and control system during a no-notice incident or scheduled event. The command unit acts as the central point of communication and decision-making, allowing emergency responders to work together more effectively.  The outcomes of a command unit can be significant.  By providing a centralized command and control system, emergency responders can work more efficiently and effectively, which can ultimately save lives and prevent further damage during an emergency or disaster.  While recognizing the importance of a well-developed Command Unit program and how that can greatly improve the County’s response efforts, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Howard County Police Department (HCPD) started developing and implementing new programmatic practices, such as onboarding and training program, internal procedures, processes, and policies for both Operators and Program Managers, which no previous documentation had existed.  Additionally, OEM and HCPD began retrofitting outdated/non-functioning technology within the Mobile Command Posts (MCPs) and support resources.  Since the development and implementation of these programmatic documents, the Program has shared these best practices with neighboring jurisdictions so they too can start bolstering their existing structures within their programs.

Howard County – Howard County Emergency Operations Center Representative Training Program

The Howard County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) created (2021) and then revamped (2022) an Emergency Management Operations Center (EOC) Representative Training Program following the COVID-19 pandemic response.  This program looks to reengage, retrain, and reenergize essential, non-emergency management staff from various County Departments who serve during emergency response and recovery operations.  When a disaster occurs, it takes the whole County to coordinate to respond and recover.  Almost every department, office, and agency has a role or subject matter expertise to bring to the table and it’s OEM’s job to coordinate, train, see the large picture, and make all the puzzle pieces fit together. The purpose of the EOC Representative Training is to provide background on what emergency management is, what OEM does both day to day and during emergency operations, provide an orientation and overview of the County’s EOC, how the County functions during disasters under the Comprehensive Emergency Response and Recovery Plan and Incident Command System, and how agencies work together to serve as an EOC Representative (either under a Community Coordinating Function role or an EEO Support Position (Command and General Staff).  This training is for both new EOC staff and those who have worked in previous activations.

Anne Arundel County – Situational Awareness in the Workplace

Situational Awareness in the Workplace” is a training program that was developed by Anne Arundel County Risk Management Safety to provide employees with the skill sets and tools to navigate difficult situations.  The Risk Management Safety Team engaged the county’s Office of Law to assure legal compliance.  Social isolation over the past few years has caused an increase in social anxiety, distrust of government, and aggression.  According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), social anxiety disorders have increased by 25.6%. NIH believes it is unlikely that mental health will recover to pre-pandemic levels for some time and states that those with social anxiety can often express intense out-of-proportion responses through violent behavior, aggression, and novelty seeking.  It was clear that “front-line”, customer-facing training was needed to assure that employees could identify potentially dangerous situations, understand the laws when dealing with the public, and have the ability to de-escalate a caustic interaction.  Building upon our current training model for risk mitigation, including Psychological Safety and Emergency Action Planning, we developed Situational Awareness in the Workplace.  This training provided employees with skills to maintain confidence in their capabilities to react to and persevere through difficult situations.

Howard County – The Howard County Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Ellicott City (EC) Outdoor Tone Alert System Integration

The Howard County Office of Emergency Management’s (OEM) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Ellicott City (EC) Outdoor Tone Alert System Integration provides an automated method of activating a system of flood alert tools that deliver critical public notification of active or imminent flash flooding.  The system can be activated manually or remotely via Everbridge, the integration with IPAWS automates activation whenever the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a Flash Flood Warning for the focus area of Historic Ellicott City.  To ensure functionality, there are several tests that occur on the system daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally on the various components of the system.  Previously, all components were exercised outside of the IPAWS function due to its complexity.  In the past year, to ensure greater redundancy, OEM has added a test of the IPAWS component which is unprecedented and required significant coordination with the NWS.

Together, let’s explore the remarkable stories behind these award-winning counties, and draw inspiration from their passion, creativity, and commitment to making a positive difference. View all 2023 NACo Achievement Award winners through their interactive and searchable map.  View our full series of 2023 Maryland Award Winners.