Howard County Office of Emergency Management Earns Top Honors for Life-Saving Project

The Howard County Office of Emergency Management won the prestigious Emergency Management Project of the Year from Maryland Emergency Management Association in the category of Mitigation/Prevention. The statewide honor recognized the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Outdoor Tone Alert System in Historic Ellicott City, a vital component of the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan.

Howard County OEM wins prestigious Emergency Management Project of the Year (photo courtesy of Howard County).


County Executive Calvin Ball launched the County’s Ellicott City Outdoor Tone Alert System in 2019 to rapidly notify community members within Historic Ellicott City. The system consists of four semi-permanent speaker array towers located within the Historic Ellicott City area that produce a loud tone, warning individuals in outdoor spaces of active or imminent flash flooding and the need to move to higher ground immediately.

“The success of this project is due to our work with our federal partners,” said Mike Hinson, director of the Howard County Office of Emergency Management. “Working together, we can leverage federal tools and local hardware, building new capabilities that can be replicated nationwide. In this case, we worked together to streamline public alerting timelines with the hope of increasing the time our community has to take action in an emergency.”

While the system was regularly tested for manual and remote activations, there was no way to test the IPAWS notification from the National Weather Service (NWS). As the system has been activated three times since its installation, it became critical to integrate it with IPAWS. Integrating the Outdoor Tone Alert System with IPAWS automatically triggers the system whenever NWS issues a Flash Flood Warning for the focus area of Historic Ellicott City.

“This prestigious award further highlights our ongoing commitment to making the safety and security of the residents, businesses, and visitors to Historic Ellicott City a priority,” said County Executive Ball. “While integrating our Outdoor Tone Alert System with IPAWS required significant coordination with the National Weather Service, I am grateful to Mike and his team for forging ahead on ensuring this critical emergency infrastructure can operate at its fullest potential.”

The Mitigation/Prevention Program of the Year award recognizes a program focused on long-term strategies that protect lives and reduce the impact of disasters. The recipient of this award has taken an integrated approach to structural or non-structural mitigation techniques that increase the overall protection of their community.

MDEMA promotes and supports an all-hazards approach to emergency management in Maryland. For more information about this organization, visit

While a disaster always begins and ends at the local level, a strong partnership across federal, state, and local governments is vital to emergency preparedness and community resilience. This year, the General Assembly passed legislation establishing a State Disaster Recovery Fund (SDRF) to provide much-needed resources to serve residents and businesses in all 24 jurisdictions when a disaster strikes.

While the SDRF is a significant accomplishment, more work remains. At the MACo Summer Conference session “Disaster Dollars: What’s Next?, an expert panel will explain the significance of the SDRF, detail the next steps, and highlight new ideas and policies to streamline community resources in times of crisis.

The 2023 MACo Summer Conference is August 16-19, 2023, at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: