Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced on Thursday that county residents will have a direct line to communicate storm-related concerns to the county’s emergency managers beginning this winter season. He made the announcement during the County’s annual winter storm exercise in the Emergency Operations Center, where representatives from County agencies and regional partners work together to coordinate the County’s response to a hypothetical severe winter storm.
After last January’s record-breaking snowfall and extremely high call volumes that frustrated residents, Kamenetz directed local agencies to re-examine their constituent communication mechanisms for severe storm situations. At Thursday’s briefing, he announced Stormfighter, a new interactive web-based storm reporting feature on the Baltimore County website that allows residents to self-report storm-related issues, rather than phoning the Department of Public Works (DPW). This system integrates with GIS mapping applications and provides real-time visual map-based data to assist DPW and emergency managers in responding to severe storms or other localized or regional emergencies.
“We know how frustrating it is to be unable to get through on the phone, so our award-winning Office of Information Technology has created a new web feature that is very user-friendly and is the best way to communicate with us in case of a major storm,” said Kamenetz. “When we experience very heavy snowfalls, it is important that we communicate realistic expectations to our residents that it can take many days until crews can move from the main roads and get into the neighborhood streets.”
In addition, Kamenetz announced that the county has upgraded DPW’s phone system to greatly expand the number of callers held in the queue and to enable quick mobilization of call-takers to respond to any need with little advance notice. The phone system includes a function that will advise callers of their estimated wait time to speak with someone and will invite them to submit their concerns on the website instead of waiting on hold. Kamenetz explained that the new web-based reporting form available to the public is the same form as county call-takers will use to input callers’ concerns.
County officials remind residents that in cases of true medical or other emergencies, they should always call 911. During major storm emergencies, first responders coordinate with DPW and other resources to continue responding to fires, urgent medical needs and other emergency situations.
Kamenetz also encouraged people to go to Twitter or the county website for Stormfighter updates. The county website offers the latest on road conditions, current plowing operations, winter storm tips and more at baltimorecountymd.gov/storm, which also includes Twitter updates from Baltimore County Emergency Management. These updates are also available on Twitter by using the Twitter handle, @bacoemergency.
The Baltimore County Stormfighter web tool now provides a link to live traffic camera feeds from the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART). It also offers a link to the county’s list of road closures, which provides details on roads that are currently closed due to repairs, accidents, weather or other hazards. This list is updated frequently, so people are advised to check back often for the latest status. State roads and interstates are not included. Information on those roads can be found on the Maryland Department of Transportation’s travel advisories and road closures web page at http://www.chart.md.gov/TravInfo/Default.aspx.
“The really big snowstorms can try all of our patience, and I am pleased that the County is taking these positive steps to better facilitate communication with our constituents during storm emergencies,” said County Council Chair Vicki Almond.