County Comment: Maryland Homeland Security Secretary Dedicates Armored Rescue Vehicle

County Comment
Maryland Homeland Security Secretary Dedicates Armored Rescue Vehicle
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

As part of its regular meeting on April 11, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners traveled to the Sheriff's Office on Western Maryland Parkway to see a demonstration of the Washington County Special Response Team's (SRT) new Bearcat Armored Rescue Vehicle and meet with Maryland Homeland Security Secretary Dennis Schrader.
Schrader said that security needs in Washington and Frederick Counties are somewhat different than other parts of Maryland due to some special circumstances that are "not always obvious because they are not public in a lot of ways."
Early on in the tenure of Governor Bob Ehrlich, Schrader, who also Chairs the Governor's Communications Interoperability Committee, visited the County and met with the Hospital, toured Hagerstown Regional Airport and had meetings with County Sheriff Charles Mades and City of Hagerstown Chief of Police Arthur Smith, "and subsequent to that decided that we really needed to help fund some additional public safety resources," Schrader said.
One need that was seen was for a 4-wheel drive armored response vehicle that could be used in mountainous terrain to protect secure sites.
"We talked to the folks out at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and made them aware of this requirement for a Bearcat," Schrader said, "and found the money to do that."
The vehicle will be used primarily by the Washington County Special Response Team--formed in 1998 as a joint County-City initiative to serve the area with specialized law enforcement functions beyond the realm of the typical patrol officer. Police from the City of Hagerstown along with County Sheriff's Deputies and civilian medical personnel make up the team. The function is considered part-time, as its members are assigned to full-time functions within each agency and respond to SRT activities when called upon.
Schrader said, "the fact that you have a joint unit between Hagerstown and the County Sheriff working together collaboratively, which leverages this asset, is something that you should be very proud of."
"Both the City and the County working together, that is the vision that the Governor has," Schrader said. "The Governor's Vision was that Public Safety and Public Health is fundamentally what homeland security is all about, and that's at its heart a local mission, and we wanted to empower and leverage local jurisdictions to the greatest extent possible. The only way we're going to win this war on terrorism is to empower the local jurisdictions," he said.
"We create the interface with the federal government and are trying to educate the federal government to that effect. National security had always been a federal responsibility, and now all of a sudden we've got state and local governments very engaged in taking responsibility for the fight here in the homeland," Schrader said.
"We were aware of the fact that radio communications is a big issue in Western Maryland. We're working collaboratively as much as we can. We know that Washington County is committed to the 450 (Mega Hertz) project and we're watching this very carefully," Schrader said.
Maryland's Homeland Security Chief also announced a new grant initiative that will improve public safety communications in the region, called the Quad-State Initiative.
"We urge Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland to get together. Washington County helped lead part of that effort and we're grateful for their help. We've sort of taken that challenge to the (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security in their grant process and said 'hey, if regional collaboration is a priority', which they have told us, 'here's an initiative that we think is very important'," Schrader said.
The County's Division of Fire and Emergency Services assisted in securing the grant.
Purchase of the armored vehicle was approved by the Commissioners in June 2005 with $209,000.00 in funding from a Homeland Security Grant, which required no County matching funds. In addition to the Bearcat, the funding purchased night vision headsets, SWAT air packs, body armor vests and a search camera. Also on display were two four-wheeler "Gator"-type vehicles and a four-wheel drive pickup truck, for use in mountainous terrain.