(Jan. 23, 2015) Hurricane Gloria in 1985 is where it all really started for Clay Stamp, the former emergency services director of Ocean City who late last week was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan to run the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
“In 1984, Ocean City was really getting beat up in the press for not having done enough preparation for hurricanes and nor’easters. Mayor Harry Kelley and Fire Marshall Dave Langford drove to Atlantic City, who had just formed their own program, to learn how they did it and proposed a system and wrote the first emergency plan in the spring of 1985. In September, Gloria tested that plan,” he recalled.
Gloria was devastating to downtown Ocean City, pulling up entire sections of the Boardwalk and inflicting almost $2 billion in damages adjusted for inflation.
“We evacuated people and used the command center on 15th Street,” Stamp said.
He’s been spearheading disaster relief efforts ever since.
“I’m a kid who grew up in OC,” he said, “My work ethic comes from being in OC business.”
Stamp’s family owned properties on 11th and 55th Streets, and all the family members had jobs.
“I was the maintenance man, and my sister did the laundry,” he said.
At the age of 14 he joined the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company Cadet program.
“I say I was raised by wolves at the firehouse, but really I was raised by giants of men,” he said, “They taught me to never forget where I came from, and there’s always a simple answer no matter how complex the problem.”
By the time he was 18 he was an emergency management technician and paramedic and in November 1976 he was named Ocean City’s first emergency services director.
He met State Sen. Jim Mathias in the early days, before Mathias began his political career and worked with him as Mathias became a council member and then mayor.
“I think he’s the best in the country,” Mathias said, “We went through a litany of things together — he’s lived it.”
Stamp credits Mathias with bringing him along during the aftermath of 9/11.
“He took me up there and I was detailed to Pier 92 where I was the night logistics officer for one week. It was a life-changing event. The amount of resources that were pulled together …” Stamp said, trailing off.
Stamp also was part of the disaster relief team Maryland sent to help as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans.
By this time Stamp had taken advantage of Ocean City’s 25-year retirement option and had been headhunted by then-Ehrlich-staffer and now Delegate Mary-Beth Carozza to become the deputy director of the state emergency services.
Here, Stamp distinguished himself by convincing Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield to call the governors of affected states urging an evacuation before Katrina struck.
From the Aug. 25, 2006 archives of The Miami Herald, “Acting upon the advice of Clay Stamp, a key behind-the-scenes figure … [said,] ‘Max, I’ve been in public safety for 30 years and I know what happens when you come down to the wire and you’re sitting with an elected official and you have to deliver what he needs to make a life-and-death decision. There comes a point when they have to talk to the most informed official. That time has come, and you need to talk to the governors of the states.’”
The evacuation order came several hours later.
“My initial interest [in MEMA] was to offer input. As I went through the process it became clear to me there was an opportunity not just to provide input, but to put my name in to be the MEMA director,” Stamp said.
Richard “Buzzy” Bayles was Stamp’s second in command in Ocean City for many years.
“When I was made aware he had been named MEMA director, I got in touch with my contacts in the emergency services community. All of them are excited, and it’s great to hear. They’re tickled to death that they know him, he knows the state hazards and they can put a face to the name,” Bayles said.
Susan Jones, director of OC’s hotel-motel-restaurant association, recalls Stamp’s commitment to transparency.
“When I started in 1995 and there were storms, Clay called the organizations to meet and allowed us into meetings to hear news from the horse’s mouth. He included everyone as part of the conversation. I’m elated to hear the news,” she said.
Stamp embraces the assessment.
“At heart I’m a local responder, a local manager. My prime focus at the state is to support local efforts,” Stamp said.