SILVER SPRING, Md. - State and federal government agencies had everything they
needed to open a disaster recovery center in Silver Spring Thursday --
Representatives from a half-dozen groups, including the American Red
Cross, the Maryland Insurance Administration and the Small Business
Administration, were there equipped with forms and referrals. Television
crews were there too, interviewing Montgomery County Executive Douglas
Yet by mid-afternoon only three people had stopped by the center to ask
for help. By 6:30 p.m., shortly before it was scheduled to close for the
day, the Silver Spring center had only served five people.
But officials said they were not concerned.
"People don't need to come here if they don't want to," said Butch
Ducote, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In fact, people cannot come to any of the 11 disaster recovery centers
that opened around the state this week until they have called a FEMA hotline
During the 20-minute application process, a FEMA operator can send them
forms for federal aid. The entire process can be done over the phone, but
agencies decided to open centers for people who prefer talking face-to-face
to government workers, Ducote said.
Three centers opened Tuesday -- in Annapolis, Baltimore and Essex --
followed by one Wednesday in Prince Frederick. Seven centers opened
Thursday, in Silver Spring, Easton, Cambridge, Rock Hall, Chester, Crisfield
and California, Md.
Residents can register and find out the address of their nearest center
by calling 800-621-FEMA. If they opt to go to the centers, they will find
everything from Red Cross agents who can help direct them to food and
cleaning supplies, to government workers who can help them start the
application process for business loans or other government aid. At the
Silver Spring center, county employees were on hand to help with things like
permits for construction that might be needed to clean up after Isabel.
Statewide, 6,238 residents had called the FEMA hotline as of Wednesday
night, with the most calls, 2,100, coming from Baltimore County. FEMA
officials said 195 Montgomery County residents and 736 Prince George's
County residents had called the hotline by Wednesday night.
While only a handful of those suburban Washington residents showed up at
the Silver Spring center Thursday, officials said they expected the pace to
"Generally speaking, we start out slow and it picks up in two or three
days," said FEMA center manager Norma Keithley.
About 20 workers were at the Silver Spring center, ready to answer
questions. But mostly they caught up on office work, ate lunch and talked to
people from other agencies.
"I'm not surprised by the turnout, but later tomorrow or early this
evening, things will pick up," said Peter McGinnity, a business development
specialist for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
McGinnity spent his free time working on the computer and organizing his
work schedule with two co-workers also at the center. Jason Decker from the
Maryland Insurance Administration also brought in work from the office and
he was "just trying to keep busy."
The launch of the Silver Spring center came two days after the state
Department of Human Resources said it would open a center for
Washington-area residents. But organizers struggled to find a site, until
they finally landed on the Silver Spring location on the eighth floor of an
office building at 8757 Georgia Ave.
The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, from 9 to 5 on
Saturdays and from noon to 5 on Sundays, for as long as it is needed,