Robert Maloney is director of the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management. He is responsible for citywide emergency preparedness and homeland security funding administration, and he also chairs the Baltimore Urban Area Working Group, which administers the region’s Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding from the federal Homeland Security Grant Program. Previously, he served with the Baltimore City Fire Department as a firefighter/paramedic, emergency services lieutenant, department chief of staff. Later he served as the department’s director of emergency management, before his post’s transfer to the mayor’s office. Maloney is a veteran of the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he achieved the rank of petty officer second class and served a tour of duty in Iraq as a corpsman deployed with the U.S. Marine Corps. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Towson University and is currently pursuing his Master of Science degree at The Johns Hopkins University Graduate School’s Management Science program. His awards include two Baltimore City Fire Department meritorious conduct medals and the Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal.
Q. What are your office’s responsibilities?
A. Our primary responsibility is to maintain a high level of preparedness to protect our citizens, workers, visitors, and the environment from the impact of natural and manmade disasters. So we prepare the city and the public and coordinate interagency response and recovery. We do that by implementing a program of disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
Day-to-day, my responsibility is primarily to implement our programs, like public education or training and exercises. One of my main responsibilities is to make certain that the city’s emergency operations plan is integrated not only among city agencies but also with the private sector, nonprofits, and state and federal government agencies, making sure we’re all on the same page. My office actually traces back to the city’s old Office of Disaster Control and Civil Defense. One of our emergency operations centers is actually in an old Cold War bunker.
We have a 24-hour response capability with somebody on duty who can respond to emergencies all throughout the city that warrant our presence: major water main breaks, severe flooding, major power outages, blizzards, hazmat incidents, things of that nature. We may be a little different than most city emergency management agencies in that we try to establish coordination much earlier than just in major incidents.
In addition to that operations program, I have a community preparedness program which encompasses Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services, and one of the things that I’m most proud of, which is our Local Emergency Planning Committee, where we really get involved with the private sector and figure out ways that we can best help us all to be better prepared.
Q. What assets and threats make your city unique?
A. Well, from a hazard standpoint, we have a tremendous amount of rail traffic that transports hazardous materials, and we have a section of the city with major chemical production, and we also have a number of economic monsters like The Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, and the investment firm Legg Mason. If any of their operations stopped, it could become catastrophic.
From a natural standpoint, although you know we don’t have a whole lot in the way of earthquakes, we are at the mouth of the Patapsco River, where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay. So during hurricane season there’s always a risk that a hurricane of major magnitude traveling directly up the Bay would pack a pretty good punch.
One of the things that is characteristic of most major cities is that we have a tremendous amount of people who are considered vulnerable. That may be because of economics, it may be because of special needs, but for whatever reason, that segment of the population requires additional help from the city in the event that something happens.
There’s also our close proximity to Washington, D.C. If something did happen in Washington, we would be required to assist with that, whether it would entail sheltering or providing resources to help their jurisdiction; similar to how we prepared for President Obama’s pre-inaugural visit in January.
Q. How has your background influenced how you approach your job?
A. I became a firefighter-paramedic in 1996, and I worked in busy companies and I instructed at the academy, and then I became the fire department’s chief of staff. I was spending more and more time behind the desk so I entered the Naval Reserve as a corpsman. The next thing you know I was in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005, serving with the a Marine IED unit. I was able to get an unbelievable amount of experience being involved in that.
All we did for six months was search for IEDs and weapons caches. It obviously changed me because it reinforced how important it is to be prepared and be safe and make certain you do your due diligence in advance because if not, we all wouldn’t have survived. I saw with my own eyes how people can intentionally harm other people. We extracted 80 IEDs. We were attacked, we were bombed, and we saw its effects. You can read about it and you can watch it on TV, but until you’re a part of it…I think it just reinforced how important it is for all of us to be prepared. And as 9-11 gets away from us, it’s easy to be complacent. In Iraq whenever you exited a Marine installation, the words “Complacency Kills” were spray-painted inside the gate. You try to say that in government or in emergency management, but it’s tough because if there’s nothing going on, preparedness tends to take a back seat. And I think that’s helped me to at least, in the positions that I influence, to at least try to be a catalyst for preparedness.
Q. What is the Baltimore Urban Area Security Initiative region’s governance structure?
A. I chair our UASI. Our UASI is two cities and five counties. It’s Baltimore and Annapolis, plus Carroll, Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore counties. One of the decisions we made early on—which I think was a good decision, and I think it was probably a decision that affected how we’ve been able to progress better than other UASIs have—is that we initially included jurisdictions that weren’t designated to share in the money. Initially it was just Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County, but we immediately expanded to include our current partners. Martin O’Malley, who’s was mayor then and is now governor, and the person who was doing what I do now, Fire Chief William Goodwin, realized that although in the short run would there be less money to share, in the long run it made much more sense because we could make the case to secure funding as a region—the concept has to be regional.
I’m the chairman of that group as the core city, and right now we have about 20 subcommittees in functional areas with representation from each of those jurisdictions. They bring in their assessments of risk and what they want to do to bridge gaps, and they formally communicate those needs in the form of an applications. Then, as the committee, we decide what goes on our needs list. And then from that needs list, we award UASI money based on the overall regional determination of risk and priorities.
Q. What is the greatest challenge of the regional mission?
A. Early on the challenge was trying to bring all the stakeholders into the arena. And I would suggest that that is not as difficult—nowhere near as difficult—as it used to be. I’ve been involved in this process since 2002, and I get the general sense of everybody, all stakeholders, know that we’re all in this together. So there’s a whole host of meetings and task forces and coordination centers and fusion centers where all stakeholders are gathered.
I think the challenge that we face more than we probably did in the past is identifying and managing risk: As opposed to purchasing the obvious things that you “need” with grant dollars, taking a systematic approach to assessing the regional risk. And I think it’s a challenge because all the stakeholders see those risks differently. The Port of Baltimore might see one risk, as an emergency manager I may see another; the fire chief might see another, and the county might see another. To get those risks on one sheet of music and then systematically decide which ones to deal with, which ones to “buy down” and prioritize; I think that to me is the challenge that I’m facing.