Maryland to boost communication

Maryland Emergency Management Agency

Maryland state homeland security officials plan to increase communication between their offices and local governments to fix gaps in information, funding and understanding, the state's homeland security director said today.

Each state has a different process for coordinating homeland security across all levels of government and within Maryland, the last three months have shown that "we, as a state, have got to get ourselves organized," said Dennis Schrader.

He was speaking today at the first meeting of the Homeland Security Leadership Alliance in Baltimore, Md. The alliance is a public/private sector organization aimed at serving as a national resource for sharing practices and expertise.

Schrader joined the governor's homeland security office last year, and a common problem since then has been the question of how to get funding to where it needs to be, since first responders are spread across state, county and city lines. For Maryland, the process is based entirely on reimbursement -- with a city spending the money and applying to the state for reimbursement -- and at the state level, officials have finally decided that "we've got to get into the local jurisdictions and teach them this process," Schrader said.

Many mayors expressed many concerns about the flow of homeland security funding, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has been one of the most vocal, as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Homeland Security Task Force.

Also speaking at the alliance meeting, O'Malley pointed out that the reimbursement problem is not always just between the cities and the states, but also between the cities and the federal government. Baltimore has spent more than $18 million on security enhancements when the Homeland Security Department raised the color-coded threat level. However, only a little more than $1 million of that has been reimbursed, he said.

Within Maryland, right now the plan is to drive much of that communication through the 24 locally-based state emergency directors, although officials will also work directly with the largest jurisdictions, Schrader said.

The new director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, John Droneburg, should be a big asset in this effort, especially when it comes to addressing language and culture differences, Schrader said. Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich named Droneburg to the position in December, and he comes to the state level after 11 years as public safety director for Frederick County, Md.

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