OC used to have larger disaster relief team; Crisfield still aided

NANCY POWELL ¦ Staff Writer

(Nov. 30, 2012) Following Hurricane Sandy’s ravaging of parts of Crisfield, representatives of Ocean City’s Emergency Services staff and the Ocean City Community Emergency Response Team volunteers went to that Somerset County town to lend a hand.

At the request of state officials, the Ocean City group offered support with the sheltering operation and the distribution of food and water.

The Ocean City Fire Department sent three volunteers and a utility pickup to be used in Somerset County’s HAZMAT operation.

Many years ago, however, Ocean City had a sizeable contingent of people organized to offer quick help following similar disasters. The group’s goal was to arrive on site within 24 hours of a disaster and to help until FEMA and other resources arrived.

“It was a great testament to humanitarianism,” said Sen. Jim Mathias, former Ocean City mayor, who went on some of those trips.

“We had a mindset, that if we were safe, we could help other people in need and we could learn,” Mathias said Tuesday. “The whole issue of recovery management is planning. We would take a group and we kept a trailer stocked.”

Team members and others knew that Ocean City could be severely damaged by a hurricane such as ones that battered other areas. “It was in the front of our minds,” Mathias said.

The Disaster Relief Team’s first mission was in South Carolina in 1989 following Hurricane Hugo, which caused 27 fatalities in that state.

In 1992, the group traveled to Homestead, Fla., which had been devastated by Hurricane Andrew. On that trip, the town of Ocean City even gave the town of Homestead a police car because its fleet had been severely damaged.

In 1996, the team went to Wrightsville Beach, N.C., after Hurricane Fran and in 2001, a smaller group, including Mathias and then-Emergency Management Director Clay Stamp, went to Ground Zero in New York City after the terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center.

In 2002, it was not a hurricane, but a tornado that ravaged a town: La Plata, in Charles County in Southern Maryland.

The Disaster Relief Team wanted to be self-sufficient so it operated out of a tractor trailer with tents, food and other supplies. Team members varied according to the mission, but could include an elected official and one or more heavy equipment operators, carpenters, electricians, paramedics, welders, cooks, mechanics, plumbers, wastewater and water plant operators, communications technicians and an emergency management official.

Sometimes, additional vehicles and equipment, such as dump trucks, a backhoe and portable radio systems were taken to the site.

When the disaster team made those trips, Ocean City was reimbursed for at least part of its work by FEMA. The town could also be reimbursed for the much smaller disaster response it provided in Crisfield.

“There is certainly potential to be reimbursed, however, it’s too early to speculate exactly what we will be reimbursed for,” wrote Jessica Waters, the Ocean City’s communications manager, in an e-mail Tuesday.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated parts of Central America. Although the team did not travel there, the Ocean City Disaster Relief Committee raised $28,000 in two months. The money was used to pay for the construction of 15 new homes.

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