MEMA – the Maryland Emergency Management Agency – was created by the Maryland legislature to ensure our state is prepared to deal with large-scale emergencies. MEMA is responsible for coordinating the state’s response in any major emergency or disaster. This includes supporting local governments as needed or requested, and coordinating assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal partners.
While MEMA is part of the Maryland Military Department and under the authority of the Adjutant General, during emergencies the Governor may assume direct authority over the agency and the Executive Director of MEMA reports directly to the Governor.
A key element of MEMA is the Maryland Joint Operations Center (MJOC). Operated round-the-clock by National Guard and emergency management professionals, it was the first joint civilian-military watch center in the country. In addition to serving as a communications hub for emergency responders statewide and supporting local emergency management, the MJOC monitors local, state, national and international events, and alerts decision-makers in Maryland when a situation warrants.
In times of disaster, the Executive Director of MEMA activates the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to support local governments as necessary or requested. Representatives from state departments and supporting agencies, as well as some federal agencies, the private sector and volunteer organizations, are present in the SEOC. Representatives have the authority to make decisions and allocate resources and funds necessary on behalf of their agency for emergency response. When the Governor declares a state of emergency, MEMA coordinates efforts with FEMA to request a Presidential Disaster Declaration and provide assistance to those impacted by the disaster.
The MEMA staff of emergency management professionals, which numbers in excess of 70 people, are divided into three directorates – Preparedness, Operations and Administration. The Operations Directorate includes exercise and training, planning, regional programs, mitigation and recovery, the Maryland Joint Operations Center, and critical infrastructure protection. The Administration Directorate handles agency logistics, personnel, supplies, fiscal services, grants managements, technology support, interoperability, and communications. The Executive Director’s office manages all public affairs, direct interaction with the National Capital Region, and legislative activities.
The agency coordinates various federal programs, including the Homeland Security Grant Program, the Emergency Management Performance Grant, and FEMA mitigation and recovery programs. Working with federal and local partners under the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, the mustard gas stored at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Harford County was successfully neutralized in 2005.
MEMA’s authority derives from Article 14 of the Annotated Code of Maryland. This Article creates MEMA and authorizes the political subdivisions of the state to create emergency management offices of their own. Currently, there are 26 local emergency management offices in Maryland – all 23 counties, along with Annapolis, Baltimore and Ocean City. Article 14 also gives the Governor emergency powers – such as temporarily waiving state laws that may interfere with emergency response operations.
Through our mitigation and recovery process, MEMA strives to reduce or eliminate the impact of future disasters. Close coordination with local jurisdictions and other state agencies may result in responsible land use, appropriate changes to our building codes, and suitable routes for hazardous material transportation to name just a few. Proper planning and preparedness are the keys to surviving a disaster. Therefore by working together with local emergency managers our action plans become pivotal in saving resources, funds, and most importantly, lives.