Security Management interviews Robert Maloney, director of the Baltimore Mayor's Office of Emergency Management.
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.
Q. How does the region assess risk comparatively between jurisdictions and assets?
A. There are scientific tools to assess risk, but there are also guidelines that you’re faced with in your jurisdiction. Let’s say your grant guidance that says you’re required to spend 25 percent of your funds to address IED threats. Hopefully, that guideline is based on some sort of risk assessment. So we wouldn’t have to do a risk assessment on allocating those funds.
For the remaining funds, each of the UASI’s jurisdictions uses a different assessment tool. Most of them are based on a government security document or a strategic plan. Like I said before, I think our biggest challenge is to improve that. I’m not necessarily sure it has to be uniform, but it needs to be integrated, and there needs to be some sort of way to extract out common things from each of those assessments. So at this point I would say that the way we do it is to take all the information that’s at hand, discuss it, and then basically determine what risks we’re going to specifically buy down.
Currently we’re re-writing the regional strategy. And we’ve done it twice so far. This will be the third revision, and we’re really hoping we can incorporate a more unified approach to those risk management tools.
Q. What is your region’s greatest success since 9-11?
A. There’s no doubt about it that those individuals who knocked down those buildings had no idea of American resolve and our ability to take bad and turn it into good. And the level of coordination that is happening to prepare for the worst helps us in what we do every day. And that’s the single biggest thing I’ve seen since 9-11. If somebody’s mother is sick and they dial 911, we have better radios to respond with. Or, if there’s an accident on the Baltimore Beltway and your kids are in it, we have better equipment to deal with that. And we know how to work with each other across jurisdictional boundaries.
And I think that’s helped us in every area of homeland security. I mean look at the level of coordination on the California wildfires the last few years. And although the initial response to Katrina was not stellar by any means, once the cavalry rode in, you saw a level of coordination that was unprecedented. And I think that’s really the result of 9-11. I don’t think that group of evil individuals who carried out that attack anticipated, and I don’t think anybody could anticipate, how that has enabled us to respond to the regular things on a daily basis.
What I always try to tell people now is that it’s no longer about the money. The money’s not that much. The money I get locally is about $2 million each year, and the money that I get regionally is $10 million. But if you look at the amount of effort and resources that is committed to just deciding what to spend those funds, it’s not proportionate. For example, we have a hazmat subcommittee that figures out what they want to request to bridge their gaps, but they also train together, they talk to each other, they interact, they develop exercises together. And we never did that eight years ago. Before 9-11 you might see another county at a meeting, but you had no idea what was going on behind the scenes with their capabilities. And to me that’s where we’re making true progress because everybody’s going in one direction.
Q. Is fiscal sustainability a challenge given cuts in grants and the recession? If so, how are you adjusting?
A. I’m not hyper-critical of the reduction in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants, because I don’t think it’s been that much. So my assessment is that the DHS money, although it’s fluctuated somewhat, has been relatively consistent. The problem that in my opinion the current fiscal crisis has delivered, which is a great challenge, is that we’re having a hard time maintaining baseline capabilities at the local level in fire departments and police departments. DHS expects each of the jurisdictions to have a certain floor capacity, meaning, if you don’t have a fire department, they’re not going to buy you a fire department. There are certain things they expect to be in place in each jurisdiction. And I see those things being chipped away at. So in cities you might have had 30 fire companies and then you go down to 28. Well that’s going to affect your overall response to any hazard. Yet we can’t fund those things with DHS money. That’s what worries me.
Q. How would you characterize your relationship with your federal partners? What would you change, if anything?
A. To give you an example, each year I go to a national UASI conference, and it’s not organized by the federal government but by a group of individuals who wanted to improve UASIs all over the country. We exchange ideas, best practices, whatever. In the 2004-2005 timeframe, if you worked for DHS or the federal government, you didn’t announce it at this conference. There was an unbelievable level of animosity, because of unclear grant guidance, inconsistencies, and there didn’t seem like a whole lot of rhyme or reason to the grant awards. This year’s UASI conference was 100 times different. And I think a lot of it is because DHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have matured as agencies and because there is clear direction. National priorities have been set, and it’s not a mountain that can’t be climbed.
Mayor Sheila Dixon moved my office from the fire department, and made it so that the emergency manager answers directly to her. And so although I’m located in the fire department for policy direction and other things, I answer directly to City Hall. Which gives me the ability to kind of coordinate all of the stakeholders I have to without being, you know, bullied so to speak.
As mayor, Gov. O’Malley was really was instrumental in us building the systems that we have in place along with retired Fire Chief Goodwin. He understands that the locals will make the best decisions on how to defend the homeland, ultimately. And so when he became the governor, he made the decision that kind of passed through the majority of the holdback—the state holdback—to the locals, and really helped the locals to better prepare by strengthening emergency management in the state. So now what we have is kind of a flawless relationship with [DHS Secretary] Janet Napolitano and the federal government, with Gov. O’Malley, who has a great relationship with my mayor, who has kind of promulgated my office to be able to get the things done necessarily from the homeland security perspective. So for me it’s never been more opportune to get stuff done, but it hasn’t always been like that. At the time the governor was the mayor, there was a governor in office who wasn’t necessarily conducive to the things that we were trying to accomplish.
Q. Does your office engage the private sector? If so, how?
A. We have three structures responsible for that do that. One the Homeland Security Preparedness Committee (HSPC), and that structure has a whole set of tasks, but we meet monthly with all the city agencies, with the deputy mayor, and we tackle a very robust agenda of preparedness issues, and it’s through that forum that we allocate the local homeland security funds within the city. And then that committee has about 13 functional subcommittees.
In addition to that Mayor Dixon is the mayor of the core city in the UASI, and she appointed me the chair of the Baltimore Urban Area Working Group, and that allocates the regional UASI funds, and then of course on every subcommittee I have people from Baltimore go and represent us to fight for their priorities as well. So those two are the main governance structures and there’s different offshoots of that—like the HSPC has a Security Council that answers directly to the mayor that she can convene at any time for policy advice on homeland security issues. There’s private representation on the Security Council, through Baltimore’s Downtown Partnership, and there’s wider private sector representation on the HSPC.
Where I do a lot of my interaction with the private sector is through the local chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners, but mostly through the local emergency planning commissions. We have an e-mail list of between 500 and 700 stakeholders, and we have quarterly meetings where we cover preparedness topics in a format where information can be exchanged. At those meetings the first half hour is networking. During the second portion is normally we have three or four panel discussions that are open for questions, and we discuss any legislative affecting preparedness in the area. That’s really one-stop shopping where I get my face time with the private sector in the communities.
In addition to that, I’m always reviewing emergency operations plans. We call our private sector into incident command a lot. When we had the water main break we had reps from the Downtown Partnership, and South Baltimore Industrial Mutual Aid Plan, which is a regional chemical sector consortium.
On the preparedness end, I interact with CERTs and the American Red Cross. Actually we just had a conference in Baltimore on a topic called meta-leadership. It was led by a guy from Harvard who comes in with all of these different stakeholders in the room, and over the course of the day we identified “gaps,” “gives,” and “gets.” And we tried to marry the “gives” and the “gets” to fill the gaps. One of the things I think we found is that we really didn’t have the same problems that they reported in other jurisdictions where it was difficult to just get people in the room who didn’t know each other.
Baltimore is referred to in a jovial way as “Smaltimore.” It’s a community settled by immigrants who, you know, resided in most of the same neighborhoods for years. And it’s a big city but it’s a small city in the sense that most of the people involved in government interact on other situations, so it works out pretty well.
Q. Have any recent incidents or exercises produced valuable lessons?
A. Well this spring a 40-inch main broke in Center City. Not only did it paralyze traffic but it also knocked out the water to the downtown business district. We had planned a bunch of stuff regarding whether we should close buildings based on whether they have water from a fire prevention standpoint. But one of the unexpected lessons came from a public health standpoint and informed our decision to close city government that day. For two weeks prior Mayor Dixon has been emphasizing everybody the importance of hand washing on account of H1N1 flu. So when it came time to make that operational decision to close city government it was an easy one.
It’s always amazing in those big incidents how much it really affects people. For instance, there was a restaurant that was hosting a private party. And you could tell they really needed to have it, whether it was the economy or the guest was important. And so the guy came up to command and he was like, “I just need to know, when am I going to be back in business?” And we were able to give him the timeframe and likelihood. There are just so many stakeholders for whom you can underestimate the impact and how important it is. That day T. Rowe Price and Legg Mason transferred a lot of their data to other locations. And that comes with a cost. I’m not going to tell them what they should do. I’ll give them the best situational report as to what’s going on. And there are two things that are my responsibility. One is to develop that report, and two to communicate it. The rest is up to them, unless it’s life or limb, and then we say, “You’ve got to get out of this building," or "You’ve got to do this.”
Q. What are your office’s main goals for the new year?
A. Well we’re rewriting our emergency operations plan for the city so I would say that’s a major goal, especially to incorporate risk management throughout our program. Another major goal is to continue to navigate through these difficult economic times. And then to do everything we can to continue to strengthen the regional collaboration with all the stakeholders. There’s personnel turnover, but you’ve just got to keep moving, you’ve got to involve everybody. It’s a challenge.