Resort Revises Emergency Operations Plan

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City’s Emergency Operations Plan has been revised, reported the Emergency Services Director this week, highlighting the recent revisions to the plan, as well as emphasizing the importance of staying current with emergency service preparedness.

At a work session of the Mayor and City Council this week, Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald presented the Mayor and Council with an overview of the town’s current Emergency Operations Plan, as well as the necessary revisions needed to keep the document relevant and effective.

‘The Emergency Operations Plan is purely a guide. It’s flexible, it’s adaptable,” said Theobald.

Each potential emergency poses unique threats and situations that would ultimately require flexibility within the plan.

The Emergency Operations Plan outlines a variety of procedures and guidelines for response to any number of emergencies that could affect the resort, from terrorist attacks to hurricanes.

“Ocean City is a hurricane prone community, we must be serious and prepared,” said Theobald, noting that it’s a matter of when, not if, a hurricane will strike the resort.

The purpose of the Emergency Operations Plan is to, “provide a foundation for the coordination of all City Departments and various support agencies and organizations, prior to, during and after any major emergency or disaster,” whether it be a natural, man made or technological disaster.

The narrow peninsula of Ocean City, which is just 10 miles long and a half a mile wide, is susceptible to many emergency situations or disasters, particularly hurricanes. The purpose of the plan is to prepare for any situation through teamwork, preparedness and efficient recovery.

The resort town poses a unique situation when it comes to emergency operations, particularly regarding evacuation, as the population fluctuates greatly throughout the year.

According to the Emergency Operations Plan, from October to April, it is estimated that 95,000 people are either visiting or residing in Ocean City. During the peak season, May through September, the population can grow as large as 200,000 to 350,000 within the town limits.

As the town grows and buildings, infrastructure, evacuation routes and technology change, the Emergency Operations Plan must change as well, to mirror the needs of the town in the event of an emergency.

The revised plan incorporates NIMS, the National Incident Management System.

The revised plan will also see timetable changes. Theobald explained that in the event of a hurricane, “at 120 hours, five days, that’s where we’re going to begin to monitor.”

Strength of the hurricane, measured by wind force, plays a major role in determining evacuation.

A new aspect of the plan is the inclusion of the foreign student population. The wide base of foreign students that reside in the town through the brunt of the hurricane season have few options in the event of a major hurricane or emergency, as “returning to your home” is cumbersome when home is across the world. Staying with friends and family outside of the area can also pose challenges for the foreign population.

“Being able to provide them an evacuation route and some shelter is key,” said Theobald.

Phase One of the evacuation plan now calls for foreign students to report to assigned transportation pick-up locations, where they will then be transported to shelters.

The evacuation timeline is based on data from studies by ACE and MDOT, which include estimated population figures and the number of vehicles using predetermined evacuation routes.

“Based on these studies at peak population estimates, it will require 36 to 48 hours for the efficient movement of evacuees from the Eastern Shore,” reads the Emergency Operations Plan.

“What Ocean City does impacts the rest of Delmarva,” said Theobald, pointing out that an evacuation of the town would ultimately affect the region and the entire state. “An evacuation in peak season, we have to be cognizant of our neighbors in the rest of the region and the rest of the state.”

Recovery initiatives were also revised in the plan, in an effort to be more in sync with today, said Theobald.

According to the plan, “the purpose of recovery planning is to anticipate what will be needed to restore the community to full functioning capability as soon as possible through pre-event planning and cooperation between citizens, businesses and the Town Government.”

Both long-term and short-term recovery goals are outlined in the plan.

“We take this business very seriously, it’s a collective effort,” said Theobald.

After reviewing the revisions, the council voted unanimously to approve the revised Emergency Operations Plan.