Some Lyon Park residents have expressed concern about Arlington’s 911 system after waiting on hold while calling in last Wednesday’s house fire on N. Highland Street. Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management, however, says everything worked just as it was supposed to.
Some callers reported hearing a recorded message while they were put on hold for several minutes, according to an ARLnow.com tipster. OEM Director Jack Brown confirmed that there were callers who heard a message asking them to stay on the line while the system was flooded with calls. Anyone who hung up was then called back to verify that they were safe and to check if they still needed emergency assistance, exactly like any other 911 hang up.
“It’s not an overburden for us, it’s just very busy in the initial stages of an emergency,” said Emergency Communications Center Commander John Crawford. “The system was working and the people were working. The only issue we get is when lots of people call all at once.”
Crawford explained that Arlington’s 911 call center has a minimum of 10 people staffing it at all times. Typically, calls immediately go through to a staffer. But when an emergency occurs, such as during the Lyon Park fire, there are so many calls that each one cannot be answered immediately.
“The phones just literally lit up. We knew it was something significant,” Crawford said. “If 10 people call 911, the eleventh person is going to get a pre-recorded message asking them to hold. We purposely put that recording in there because in years past the phone would just ring and ring, and people would question if they called the right number.”
The automatic call distribution system immediately sends holding callers to the first available staff member as soon as a line frees up. Once information is gathered from the first couple of callers, the rest of the calls typically move more quickly. Staffers make every effort to gather information from each caller as rapidly as possible to avoid missing an emergency.
“You never know, that eleventh call or twelfth call might be someone in a horrific accident on G.W. Parkway not related to the fire, so we have to go through every call as quickly as possible,” said Crawford. “I have to talk to you but I don’t have to talk to you long. To some people it may sound rude, but I need to cut to the chase and get the info I need and then hang up the phone.”
Crawford noted that Arlington’s 911 call center received significant upgrades five years ago, including expanding the number of phone lines from 16 to 48. Improvements have been made to prevent the system from “locking up” as it did during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.
“On 9/11, the phones rang and lit up so quick that it locked the system up. Literally hundreds. We couldn’t even get to them,” said Crawford.
9/11 also put into play the rare “code red” alert that gets sent out to staff pagers and phones, ordering them back to work to help with a large emergency. With the additional lines that have been added since that time, the center could now have 48 call takers working at the same time — one for each phone line.
“Thank God, other than a couple of disasters I know of, we haven’t had need to upstaff to that degree,” said Crawford.
Arlington’s 911 center does add extra staff members during anticipated busy times, such as weekend nights and planned events like races. However, on the average day, the 10 or so call takers need to deal with any incidents that arise.
Crawford noted that it’s important for people to continue to call when they see or hear something occur because you never know if another person will call or not. He asks residents to be patient if they’re put on hold during a flood of calls, and promises the call takers are doing the best they can.
“We work for the citizens, those are our customers,” Crawford said. “We try to provide the best possible customer service to them.”
Editor’s Note: This new sponsored Q&A column is written by Mathew B. Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLC.
Question: My soon-to-be-ex-husband makes less than I do. Does that mean I have to pay spousal support after we divorce?
The short answer here is probably; however, it can sometimes be impossible to predict what a court is going to do when it comes to spousal support.
In assessing whether you would owe spousal support, the court would look at a number of factors such as your respective incomes, the duration of your marriage, standard of living during the marriage, how property was distributed, and the decisions made during the marriage as they affect your earning potential. So if the difference between incomes is slight and it was a short marriage, it is unlikely that you will pay support. In contrast, if there was a sizable difference in income and you were married a long time, you will most likely pay support.
Even after you owe spousal support, the next step is to figure out how much and for how long you will pay it. Unlike child support which has a set duration and guidelines, there are no statewide guidelines for determining either the amount or duration of spousal support. For duration, the general rule of thumb is half the length of the marriage, but exceptions often occur for exceptionally short or long marriages. If you have been married for a long time, you may owe permanent spousal support. In terms of the amount, some courts have adopted their own guidelines for determining support, even on a temporary basis, as is the case in Fairfax. But most courts, including Arlington, base the amount on each spouse’s financial needs and the totality of the circumstances.
On other side of the coin, if you are the one filing for spousal support before filing for divorce (during the separation period), you can seek temporary support from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
As you can see, there are many different factors to consider when it comes to spousal support – it is a complicated area of law that you should not take on without seeking the advice of an attorney.
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Police have begun their annual crackdown on passengers who aren’t wearing seat belts. The Click It or Ticket enforcement period began yesterday (May 20) and runs through Sunday, June 2.
The Arlington County Police Department says motorists should always wear seat belts, and those who refuse to will be targeted. ACPD is joining other local and state law enforcement officers, as well as those across the country, who are focusing on seat belt laws during this time period.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ Safety Office, preliminary statistics show that last year 305 of Virginia’s 774 fatalities were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics from 2011 indicate 272 Virginians lived through accidents due to wearing a seat belt.
Per state law, everyone in a vehicle must be wearing a seat belt. Drivers are encouraged to tell all people riding with them to buckle up. If there are passengers under the age of 18 violating the law, the driver can receive tickets for each unrestrained minor. Passengers over the age of 18 can receive their own tickets if unrestrained while riding in a car.
ACPD recorded 630 seat belt violations during traffic stops from May 2012 through April 2013.
The new Sweet Leaf Cafe in Courthouse quietly opened its doors this past weekend and handed out free food to customers who stopped in. Now, the restaurant is officially open for business.
Sweet Leaf Cafe moved in at 2200 Wilson Blvd, formerly occupied by Hikaru Sushi. It is the third location, with others in McLean and Vienna. Owner Arita Matini said she’s been wanting to expand into Arlington for a while.
“I love the young environment here, it’s so refreshing,” she said.
Matini believes the cafe stands out because it doesn’t specialize in just one food item. Customers can pick up a little bit of everything, including sandwiches, smoothies, coffee or all day breakfast items. There is also a kids menu and a variety of freshly baked treats.
“We try to do a little bit of everything but also try to keep it simple. We care about providing really good quality food and being part of the community,” said Matini. “Customer service is really big for me. I want to be sure that everyone who comes in is really happy when they leave.”
Matini grew up in Northern Virginia and was an interior design major at Marymount University. She was inspired to get into the restaurant business during her commute to and from Marymount because she felt there were too many chain restaurants in the area. She sought help from her mom, who owns Sweet Stuff in McLean. Matini says all the members of her family now play some role at Sweet Leaf Cafe.
“It wasn’t really something that we thought we were going to do, it was one of those things that kind of just happened. We all loved it and it was successful and we wanted to open another one,” said Matini. “My parents definitely helped me out. Without them, this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
From the couches in the lounge area to the doorknobs functioning as coat hooks to the pieces of an old chicken coop serving as a holder for bags of chips, Matini’s interior design education shows through. She travels around the area searching for unique antiques to adorn the restaurant. She describes the vibe as “farm fresh, country, like your mother’s home.” The free sunflower seeds placed on the table for customers to munch on also add to the country feel.
If things go well with the new location, Matini would like to expand into other areas of Arlington, such as Rosslyn. She hopes to have a grand opening celebration in a few weeks. Until then, the staff will continue serving the curious customers who have been steadily coming in.
“It’s been a good welcome to the neighborhood,” said Matini. “Everybody’s been really nice and welcoming.”
Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in Arlington County.
Restaurant & Rhythms Music Series*
Amuse at Le Meridien Arlington (1121 19th Street North)
Time: 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Restaurants and Rhythms offers weekly performances inside three Rosslyn restaurants through August. Each location will also offer Happy Hour specials in conjunction with the live bands.
On Tap Magazine Summer Beer Sampling*
Velocity Five (2300 Clarendon Blvd)
Time: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Enjoy complimentary appetizers and have the chance to sample each of the beers. You must be 21+ to attend, no exceptions, and you must RSVP at www.ontaponline.com/beer.
Jackie and Brenna’s High School Reunion*
Whole Foods Market (2700 Wilson Blvd)
Time: 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
The Wine:30 Team is heading back to High School in the retro charm of the 80’s! Join us a “Dance Hall Days” inspired menu, spectacular wines, and lots of really big hair. Dress in prom attire and receive an additional $2 off admission.
Jay Pharoah from SNL
Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike)
Time: 10:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Enjoy standup comedy routine by Jay Pharaoh. Admission is 21 years old and up. Doors open 45 minutes to show start time. Tickets $25.
Central Arlington Historical Walking Tour
Clarendon Metro Station (3100 Wilson Blvd)
Time: 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
An easy all-day walk of 10-12 miles touring historic points in central Arlington, including colonial, Civil War, trolley and W&OD Railroad sites. Visit Clarendon, Ballston, Arlington Forest and Glencarlyn neighborhoods. Walk along Lubber Run and Four Mile Run.
Northside Social Open Mic Night
Northside Social (3211 Wilson Blvd)
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Hosted by local musician, Ken Wenzel. Enjoy local comedians or give it a try yourself at open mic night. Sign up at 6:30p.m.
*Denotes featured (sponsored) event
A mother saw the man sitting in a van near the school’s bus stop on N. 31st Street around 8:20 yesterday morning. When she noticed that he was naked from the waist down, she called police.
The person is described as a white male with dark hair, in his mid to late 40s. At the time of the incident he was in a white Chevrolet Astro van that had ladders on the roof.
Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said the mother did exactly what she should have in this type of incident.
“If something doesn’t feel right, it’s better to alert police and let them investigate,” Sternbeck said. “The ACPD is following up on the incident and will have an increased presence in the area.”
If found, the man could be charged with indecent exposure.
Pierce Queen Apartments Too Costly for Tax Credits? — The Virginia Housing Development Authority has flagged the Pierce Queen Apartments project in Ft. Myer Heights as being too expensive for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The units must remain at $350,000 each to receive credit, but the Pierce Queen units come in at $402,000. The project developers asked for a little more than $2 million in tax credits. VHDA is still examining the request and will make its final decision on June 5. [Arlington Mercury]
DOD Renews Lease in Crystal City – The Department of Defense decided to renew its lease at 2530 Crystal Drive in Crystal City. The agency was expected to stay in the more than 550,000 square foot space due to money being tight within the federal government. [GlobeSt]
High School Tournament Roundup — In high school sports, the Washington-Lee boys tennis team defeated the Robinson Rams in a quarterfinal match, but lost to Langley in the region semifinals. Yorktown boys and girls lacrosse teams lost in their second rounds of tournaments. Yorktown sophomore Luke Maxwell finished his season undefeated and won the National District singles tennis tournament without dropping a set. [Northern Virginia Sports]
Flickr pool photo by ddimick