Public safety is a top priority of the Ball administration, and the Safe and Sound Plan encompasses many important initiatives and programs to enhance safety in Historic Ellicott City.

This includes ensuring that the structures on Main Street are safe and secure, providing residents and business owners with advance notice when inclement weather is coming, and keeping our waterways free from debris to improve water flow.

Since 2019, several important flood safety initiatives have been implemented in town. The County continuously tests and enhances these safety measures to prioritize public safety.

An older couple walking down Ellicott City's Main Street.

Ongoing Flood Safety Efforts


High Ground Access Points


The National Weather Service advises that when flooding occurs, the best thing to do is exit the floodplain if it is safe to do so. The High Ground Access Points, detailed on the map below are meant to show ways to exit the floodplain at different points on Main Street. It is important to note that due to the unpredictable nature of floods, some routes may be impassable.

In 2019, "High Ground" signs were placed along Main Street identifying routes out of the floodplain. In each parking lot in Old Ellicott City, informational signs were installed explaining the access points. The County also provided signs, table tents, and window clings that businesses can display to provide this important information to their customers.

In addition to the High Ground Access Points, the County has agreements with two property owners in Historic Ellicott City (8044 and 8060 Main Street) on private property that allow people to quickly get off Main Street in the event of a severe weather emergency. Each point has a staircase that leads to a space above Main Street where people can wait out severe weather more safely. These two gates remain secured during non-emergency times but will automatically open in the event of high-water and/or the issuance of a Flash Flood Warning in Historic Ellicott City. 

The gates can be opened by the County’s public safety team remotely and on-site. Additionally, the gates are equipped with high water sensors, and a pin code can be used to unlock the gates if needed. Community members and visitors are advised to call 9-1-1 to request the pin code if they need to seek higher ground, and the gates are locked.


Map of high ground access points and private access gates in Historic Ellicott City.

Drop Arm Barriers


As another critical flood mitigation strategy, Drop Arm Barriers are a testament to our proactive approach in flood safety. Placed at critical junctures throughout town, the Drop Arm Barriers will deploy during severe weather events, restricting the flow of new traffic into town until the threat of flooding passes.

Plans to install Drop Arm Barriers are currently in design and development.


Emergency Public Alert System


As part of EC Safe and Sound, an outdoor tone-based alert system was implemented to complement existing alert and warning tools.  There are four semi-permanent towers located within the Downtown Ellicott City area. These semi-permanent towers are fixed in the ground with concrete bases. Each tower has a pole extending approximately 40-60 feet above with a speaker array on top. The units  produce a very loud tone (technically rated at 120 decibels within a 100 ft radius) warning individuals in outdoor spaces.

The semi-permanent units are currently in place and operational. 

The units can be triggered by the National Weather Service through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) for Flash Flood Warnings, and by officials in Howard County, as necessary.


Clearing the Waterways


During weather events, debris in the county’s waterways can create blockages throughout the watershed that contribute to flooding. Keeping the waterways in and around Ellicott City clear of debris is a critical element to ensuring the safety of residents, business owners, and visitors during severe weather events.

Previously, waterways were inspected on a quarterly or semi-annual basis, but more can and will be done. At the direction of County Executive Ball, the Department of Public Works is increasing the frequency of inspection and debris by inspecting certain waterways within 3 business days after every major weather event and committing to removing any debris found within 14 business days of inspection.

As of February 2024, approximately 89,000 pounds of debris has been removed from the waterways in and around Ellicott City through a collaborative effort between Howard EcoWorks and the Department of Public Works.


Flood Mitigation Assistance Program


In the wake of recent floods, Howard County's commitment to its residents has never been stronger. The Flood Mitigation Assistance Program is a testament to this dedication. Guided by our unwavering resolve to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents, this program focused on assisting homeowners, businesses, and the wider community in flood mitigation efforts following the floods.

By providing financial, technical, and informational support, the County bolstered the city's resilience against future flood events, ensuring that Ellicott City remains a safe and thriving hub for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

High Ground Access Points

When should I go to high ground in the event that a Flash Flood Warning is issued for Historic Ellicott City?

If Historic Ellicott City is under a Flash Flood Warning, safely move to high ground. If you hear the Ellicott City Outdoor Public Alert tone, go to high ground, if possible. Use the elevated floors of a building only as a last resort.


Should I always utilize the designated high ground access areas?

Due to the nature of flash flooding, conditions may change quickly. Survey your surroundings and move to a safe area outside of the floodplain. While the high ground areas provide an easy means of exit, circumstances may require alternate routes and refuge.


What should I do when I get to a designated high ground area?

Remain there until flooding conditions subside, or until public safety officials indicate that it is safe to return. You may also hear an “all clear” message from the Ellicott City Outdoor Public Alert system, indicating it is safe to return.


What is the difference between the High Ground Access Points/Areas and the Private Access Gates?

The Private Access Gates are routes out of the floodplain that are on public property. The Private Access Point Gates are staircases that can be used to temporarily get off of Main Street in the event of a severe weather emergency. The gates are located on private property and are only unlocked during an emergency.


What are the designated High Ground Access Points/Areas and Private Access Gates?

The High Ground Access Areas/Points are Maryland Avenue, Church Avenue, Old Columbia Pike, and Court Avenue. The Private Access Gates are located at 8060 Main Street and 8044 Main Street.


How are the High Ground routes marked?

The routes to high ground are marked with a series of yellow signs.


How can the private access point gates be opened?

The gates can be opened in several ways:

  • The gates can be opened by the County's public safety team remotely or on-site.

  • In the event of rising water, the gates are equipped with a high-water sensor that will automatically release them when approximately 1.5” of water above the sidewalk is sensed.

  • A pin code can be used to unlock the gates if needed. Community members and visitors are advised to call 9-1-1 to request the pin code if they need to seek higher ground and the gates are locked.


Will the gates still work in the event of a power failure?

Yes. In the event of a power failure, the gates will continue to operate as normal as they are provided with a battery back-up. In the event that the battery fails, the gates will unlock automatically as they are equipped with “fail safe” operation.


Are the gates always unlocked?

No, the gates are controlled by an electronic access control system. This system protects the private property while allowing the County to override and release the gates when needed. The gates will only be unlocked when needed.


Should I call the police if I have to use one of the gates during severe weather?

Yes, if you have to use the gate and egress to high ground, call 911 and inform them of your location, and follow instructions as given.


What do I do once I go through the gate and up the stairs?

Once you proceed through the gates and up the stairs, you should shelter in place at an elevation where it is safe to do so until such point as the flood threat has subsided, or until emergency response personnel inform you it safe to leave the area.

Emergency Public Alert System

What activates the outdoor emergency tone alerts?

The units can be triggered by the National Weather Service through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) for Flash Flood Warnings, and by officials in Howard County, as necessary.


Where will I hear the tone alerts?

The tone coverage is focused on providing clear outdoor alerts to those that are next to or in the vicinity of the Tiber-Hudson river.


Can I hear the audio alerts inside my house or when sleeping?

The intent of the interim outdoor alert system is to notify those outside in immediate danger. While the audio alert may be heard inside buildings, it is not intended to alert those inside.


How will visitors know what an audio alert means?

In 2019, signs were installed in various locations throughout Ellicott City explaining the alert system so visitors understand what to do if and when the tones go off. This system is part of the broader campaign for Historic Ellicott City to inform residents and visitors of the ongoing risks of flooding and details about the alerts.


What am I supposed to do when the alert goes off?

If you hear a Flash Flood tone alert:

  • Do not walk or drive through moving water.

  • Do not go to your car.

  • Look for HIGH GROUND access signs to lead you out of the floodplain.

  • If it is necessary to remain in a building, go to higher floor.

When tones sound, seek higher ground.


How much time do I have when I hear the tone alert?

Take immediate action once an alert is heard. There may only be minutes or seconds before conditions worsen.


How else will I receive the notification?

The tone alerts are part of a network of alerting systems. Other emergency messaging may be displayed on cell phones, NOAA weather radios, and television using the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

Weather alerts are available through a variety of mobile applications which can be found at www.weather.gov/subscribe. The County's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) also recommends that every home and business have a NOAA all-hazards radio for watches and warnings related to weather.


Who do I contact if I have questions or concerns about the system?

Please contact the Howard County Office of Emergency Management via phone (410-313-6030) or email (emergencymanagement@howardcountymd.gov).


Will the tone alerts be used for other things besides flooding?

In the initial stages of the outdoor tone alert system, flooding will be the primary hazard to which alerts are focused. Future expansion of the system to include additional hazards may be assessed and discussed as the system develops.


Will there be tests of the tone alerts?

There are several scheduled tests to ensure the system remains operational:

  • Silent Test - A high-pitched short audible tone (under two seconds) from all four speaker arrays. This type of test is scheduled for every Thursday at 10:00 a.m. and 10:05 a.m.

  • Monthly System Test - A steady audible tone (approximately five seconds) followed by a voice alert announcement of the system. This type of testing will be conducted once a month on the second Thursday at 10:00 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. in place of the silent test.

  • Annual Test - A full alert of a pulsed tone (Flash Flood Warning Alert Tone) for under 2 mins. This test will be held once a year in December.

A System or Annual Test will not occur if there is a Flash Flood WATCH in effect during the test date/time. However, if a Flash Flood WATCH is issued for Ellicott City a silent test may be done to ensure the system is properly operating.


Are there other audio alert systems in Howard County?

There are several other entities that use outdoor audio alerts for various reasons, to include lightning warnings and fire department operations. Howard County OEM will use a unique tone that does not currently mimic any other area outdoor alerts.


What does it sound like and how loud is it?

The units will produce an alert at 120db at a 100 foot radius. This is equal to a emergency services vehicle’s siren at peak volume. A Flash Flood alert produces a sound that is described as a continued pulsed tone over a 3 minute period.

Clearing the Waterways

Why do we need the Safe and Sound Stream Debris Removal Program?

Areas that experience flooding during major rain events may benefit from the removal of debris in nearby streams. Excess stream debris can cause localized flooding when constriction points along the stream become blocked by debris and cause a backup of water onto roads and other infrastructure. The most common constriction points are the undersides of bridges and culvert openings. Culverts are the pipes and concrete structures that carry streams under roads. When these blockages occur, the resulting flooding can create a threat to human safety, personal property, public infrastructure, and the environment. Stream Corridor Assessments completed by S & S Planning and Design after the 2011 and 2016 floods in Ellicott City documented debris blockages as contributors to flooding and recommended that a debris management program be instituted. Channel maintenance for debris has been ongoing on the Hudson Branch in Ellicott City since 2015 and is now being expanded in both geography and frequency.

To minimize the risks associated with stream debris, Howard County is sending Howard EcoWorks into nine flood-prone streams after qualifying weather events to assess for accumulation of debris, determine what is appropriate to remove, and then remove debris that has the potential to contribute to localized flooding.


What is stream debris?

In this context, stream debris is anything within the stream or immediately along its banks that threatens to move downstream during high flow events and has the potential to clog culverts or other constriction points, which can result in local flooding. This may include logs, branches, trash and/or other bulk material.


Where is stream debris being removed?

Debris is being assessed, and removed if needed, at dozens of sites on public properties and on Columbia Association property along nine Howard County streams. These sites have been chosen because they are locations that are known to experience, or contribute to, localized flooding.


What triggers a debris-clearing event?

Debris will be removed after any rain event of 2” or greater accumulation in a 24-hour period, or after an hour of sustained winds over 30mph. Within three business days of a qualifying wind or rain event, each of the locations will be inspected for accumulation of debris and need for removal. Within fourteen business days of the inspection, the material that was identified for removal during the inspection will be removed.


How will the County and Howard EcoWorks determine what debris to remove?

Priority debris for removal includes 1) debris within and immediately upstream of culverts or other areas of constriction, 2) debris that has the potential to mobilize during an event and create a blockage downstream and 3) debris that otherwise poses or may pose a risk to adjacent infrastructure. Debris is typically composed of fallen trees and logs and may also contain smaller branches, overhanging branches and vines and trash / bulk material. Consideration for removal is given to the size of the debris relative to downstream constrictions, potential for the material to mobilize or create a hazard during a storm event and the location of the debris in stream bed or on the stream bank. The area of inspection is up to approximately bankfull elevation. The bankfull elevation is the same as the ordinary high water mark (OHWM); in many channels this is the point where water begins to flow out onto its floodplain. If stream banks are armored, live, overhanging branches <3” in diameter will be removed. If stream banks are unarmored, trees and limbs <12” in diameter will be removed if they are considered priority as defined above.

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