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State politicians, agencies prepare for Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy's path as of Friday afternoon. (Graphic: National Weather Service)

There may be nothing that sends government agencies and elected officials to their email lists with greater haste — and rightly so — than an impending natural disaster.

As Hurricane Sandy apparently bears down on the East Coast, with landfall expected early next week and many fearing power outages and floods, some inboxes have been flooded in advance of the weather system’s impact.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday she’d help distribute free sand and sandbags for city residents in low-lying areas subject to flooding.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office, after announcing the governor had declared a state of emergency, pointed out that O’Malley’s plan to vote early on Monday could be impacted by inclement weather.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke has urged constituents on her constituent list to email her if they are in trouble over the weekend.

Meanwhile, state transportation agencies from the Maryland Port Administration to the Maryland Transit Administration have warned that high winds and rain could directly impact normal operations at the port and on the MTA’s various mass transportation lines.

Then there’s the power companies.

Baltimore Gas & Electric and Pepco have both sent emails and posted information to their website, preparing customers for the possibility of mass outages.

“Tens or even hundreds of thousands of customers could lose power during this potentially catastrophic event,” Pepco’s website says.

And, to bring it back to politics, that’s where a number of Montgomery County lawmakers come in. In a letter sent on behalf of 15 members of the General Assembly, the legislators seek answers to a number of questions asked to gauge Pepco’s readiness for the storm.

“We have learned from past experience to ask questions before the storm hits so we have some measure of comfort knowing that preparations are underway for what will follow,” the letter says, citing outages caused by a freak June 29 storm and last year’s Hurricane Irene.

“Our constituents have expressed a strong desire for better reliability and improved transparency and service accuracy from their power provider,” the letter continues. “While we recognize that severe storms and resulting power outages cannot be entirely prevented, we believe better preparation and preparedness before a severe storm strikes our region will improve reliability.”

Power grid reliability is one issue — overall safety is another. That’s why the State Highway Administration, after already experiencing a false start last weekend, will again postpone its plans to replace the West Nursery Road Bridge that runs over Route 295 south of Baltimore.

Everyone is hoping, of course, that the storm causes minimal disruptions and that long-term power outages are avoided.

If they’re not? Well, we may see the one thing that sends agencies and politicians to their email lists even more quickly.