Rosslyn Lights Up Tonight — The 19th annual Light Up Rosslyn night is tonight. The holiday event is taking place from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. in front of the WJLA building (1100 Wilson Blvd). Local officials will flip a big switch to “light up” the Rosslyn skyline. In addition, there will be musical groups performing and free hot cocoa, chili, cider and cookies. [Rosslyn BID]
Reduction in Blue Line Service Planned — Metro plans to further reduce service on the Blue Line when the Silver Line to Tysons Corner opens. With the Silver Line in operation, perhaps by the end of 2013, Blue Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Franconia-Springfield and Largo, during both peak and off-peak hours. [Washington Post]
More Commuters Are Using Transit – Updated at 10:10 a.m. — There has been a significant jump in the number of Arlington residents using mass transit as their primary means of commuting to work, according to U.S. Census figures. In 2011, 28.4 percent of residents used transit, compared to 23.3 percent in 2000. [Sun Gazette]
Winter is Coming – This week is Winter Preparedness Week. Though the weather might have been warm over the past few days, Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management is advising residents to take steps to prepare for winter weather. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Sandy, which is currently churning in the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas, is expected to make its way north and threaten the D.C. area. Forecasters from the Capital Weather Gang say there’s a 75 percent chance of a direct or indirect hit from Sandy, which could bring 2 to 8 inches of rain and wind gusts from 50 to over 75 miles per hour.
In a phone interview, Arlington’s acting Deputy Director of Emergency Management, Bonnie Regan, said an email was sent Thursday to emergency support personnel in various county departments, asking them to check generators, fuel supplies, and weekend staff availability.
Regan said she was planning to participate in a conference call with forecasters, organized by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which was to take place at 3:30 Thursday afternoon. She said the county was waiting for a more definitive forecast of Sandy’s path before taking additional steps. The storm isn’t expected to hit until Sunday or Monday.
“We’re waiting for more information,” Regan said. “There are lots of different models out there right now. They’re not able to exactly tell us which way it’s going to come.”
Still, Regan said the county will act swiftly to staff its Emergency Operations Center for the storm if it becomes clear that D.C. is in Sandy’s likely path.
“Because there’s a weekend involved, I don’t want to scramble at the last minute to try to find people,” she said. “I always say, plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Three Office of Emergency Management staffers are already scheduled to be on duty on Sunday, Regan said. They’ll be staffing the unified command center for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is scheduled to start in Arlington around 8:00 that morning.
VDOT says it is also closely monitoring Sandy while “making all appropriate preparations and taking all precautions.”
Arlington County has declared Sept. 23-29 “Be Prepared Week.”
Arlington officials are encouraging residents and businesses ”to do something toward preparedness” — like downloading the “Arlington Prepares” smartphone app or putting together a “go bag” — during the week. The Arlington Office of Emergency Management is also asking people to sign an online “preparedness pledge.”
The county released a short video (above) to get the word out about Be Prepared Week.
In the days following the storm, which left 1 million customers without power in Virginia, Arlington and Fairfax counties experienced numerous problems with its 911 service, which made 911 unreachable for many emergency callers; some callers got a busy signal after calling 911, others heard nothing.
The problems were traced back to Verizon’s local communications backbone. In a report released last week, Verizon said the 911 problems started as a result of power outages.
Verizon’s central phone facility in Arlington lost power after the storm. It operated for a few hours on battery power, but a generator at the location failed to start (due to fuel line problems) and the facility lost power at 5:00 a.m. on June 30, after the batteries drained. Although Dominion restored power to the facility at 12:45 p.m., it took time for Verizon to recover its “telemetry” systems, which allow it to see and diagnose problems in its phone network, which had been been damaged by falling trees pulling down phone lines.
In Arlington, 911 service was spotty for days, but was deemed restored and stable by July 4.
In its report, Verizon said it has learned lessons from its 911 failure and will be improving its generator maintenance and redesigning some of its network systems to improve redundancy and reliability. Arlington County says it, too, has learned lessons from the experience.
Jack Brown, Arlington’s director of emergency management, said he’s hopeful that a 911 failure will never happen again. Should it happen, however, he said the county will have a more defined playbook of how to handle the situation.
During the days after the storm, Arlington advised those with emergencies to call the county’s non-emergency line at 703-558-2222. If all else failed, the county also staffed its fire stations so that residents could walk in and report an emergency. A “couple of people” did end up resorting to walking to fire stations, according to Brown.
Through the county’s efforts and somef luck, Brown said no one in Arlington was seriously harmed as a result of the 911 failure.
“We are very lucky that we didn’t have any life-threatening emergencies that couldn’t get through during that time,” said Brown. “We were very vulnerable during that period.”
In Virginia, a state panel is currently investigating the 911 failures, Brown said. Northern Virginia congressmen also called for the FCC to investigate the problems.
Flickr pool photo by ddimick
Arlington tested its outdoor warning system this morning (Thursday).
The county conducts an audible test of the warning system once or twice per year, according to Arlington Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Jack Brown. Residents in some of Arlington’s more urban areas would have heard a beep or series of beeps during the test, he said.
Arlington’s outdoor warning system was first installed in 2007, using $400,000 in funding from the Department of Homeland Security. The system includes six warning speakers: two in Rosslyn, one in Clarendon, one in Courthouse, and two in Pentagon City. The speakers are controlled by a line-of-sight radio signal.
According to Brown, he last time the speakers were used in an actual emergency was on July 4, 2007, when a severe storm was approaching the area while thousands were heading to sites like the Iwo Jima memorial for the Fourth of July fireworks display.
In addition to beeps or a siren, the speakers can broadcast a pre-recorded voice message. It’s the same type of system that’s used on military bases like Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Brown said. While Fort Myer’s speakers play Taps at night and perform other non-emergency functions, however, the county’s system is only meant to be activated for true emergencies, like severe weather events, terrorist attacks, or other incidents.
Brown acknowledged that the system is only in earshot of those who are in some of the county’s more densely-populated areas, but said that it’s only one piece in a multi-platform emergency alert system that includes the county’s 1700 AM radio station, Arlington Alert emails, social media channels, a Reverse 911 system, and local media outreach.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan got the ball rolling by declaring a local emergency on June 30. Nearly 50 other Virginia localities did the same. Yesterday, Governor Bob McDonnell formally requested assistance for the state from the the Federal Emergency Management Agency, estimated at $27.5 million. Now it’s up to President Obama to either approve or deny the disaster funding.
Jack Brown, Director of the Arlington County Office of Emergency Management, explains that to be eligible for federal funds, the county must incur more than around $700,000 in expenses. So far, the bill from the June storm adds up to approximately $802,000, which includes costs for personnel, equipment and debris removal. The total could increase as more numbers are finalized.
Brown offers a reminder that there’s a lot of paperwork and a long review process involved, and that reimbursements filter in gradually once approved.
“They don’t just cut one check for the whole amount,” he said. “We went through this after the huge snowstorms of 2009 and 2010. It’s about a year long process.”
Arlington didn’t get all the funding it requested following those snowstorms, but it fared better than many surrounding jurisdictions, according to Brown. He credits all of the individual departments involved for collecting and sorting the receipts and data that had to be submitted. The county received a total of $1.6 million, covering one storm in December 2009 and two in February 2010.
Although receiving reimbursements often involves an arduous process, Brown said the end result makes up for it.
“Once we know there has been a federal declaration, then we would go through the process with FEMA and the state, and go through all those records,” said Brown. “But it’s worth it at the end of the day.”
For now, Brown said the county continues to calculate its expense requests from the derecho, while waiting for word from the President.
“Other areas of the country were hit harder than we were with different storms, so we’re all just waiting,” said Brown.
The director of Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) says the county and utility companies are “making slow and steady progress” in the cleanup and recovery efforts following Friday night’s storm.
At a press conference today, OEM Director Jack Brown told reporters that Dominion is making “yeoman strides” to restore power to tens of thousands of Arlington residents. Despite the widespread power outages — 26,997 Dominion customers were without power as of 12:45 p.m., down from 68,000 Friday night — Brown said there has so far been no loss of life as a result of heat following the storm.
Dominion expects to restore power to 80-85 percent of customers by Tuesday night, and 90-95 percent of customers by Thursday night. Restoration works is being focused on high-density areas.
“It is a matter of priorities,” Brown said. “Eventually Dominion will get to the neighborhoods.”
Brown said power has been restored to most critical county infrastructure, but noted that Culpepper Garden, home to 276 low- and moderate-income Arlington seniors, is running on generator power and currently does not have air conditioning. The seniors are being kept in the facility for now while Dominion is being asked to prioritize power restoration to the facility, Brown said.
Brown encouraged residents who don’t have power to go to the county’s 16 cooling centers, its shopping malls, or its community pools. Arlington has set up a 24-hour drop-in cooling center at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.). Daytime cooling centers include other Arlington community centers and libraries, as well as the Ballston and Pentagon City malls. Currently the Yorktown and Wakefield high school community pools are open, while the Washington-Lee pool has closed due to a lack of water pressure.
“We need to pull together,” Brown said. “This event could last for several days, possibly a couple of weeks. Let’s check on your neighbors. It’s really about neighbors helping neighbors. Volunteer to transport those in need to county cooling centers.”
Brown said that all major county thoroughfares are open, although 19 county road remain blocked by storm debris. A dozen county crews are working to clear the debris, and debris pickup is expected to continue for the next 2-3 weeks, Brown said. Meanwhile, 39 traffic signals are still dark this afternoon (down from a peak of 96) because of power outages. Citing last night’s fatal pedestrian accident, Brown encouraged motorists to drive carefully on county streets.
“Please drive safely,” Brown said. “We really need people to slow down, particularly at these intersections. Please treat all… intersections [with non-functioning traffic signals] as four way stops.”
Brown said 911 service “remains spotty” in Arlington. He said residents who want to report an emergency should first try 911, then the county non-emergency number at 703-558-2222, then — if all else fails — seek help at the nearest fire station.
Verizon provides the Arlington’s 911 infrastructure and Brown said the county is going to investigate what went wrong.
“The county is going to conduct a thorough investigation of what happened to our 911 system… so we don’t have a repeat of this in the future,” he said. So far, he said, there have been no reports of anybody suffering serious consequences as a result of a delay in response due to a 911 failure.
Brown said that other county communications infrastructure has performed well. Despite some disruptions in the hours following the storm, Brown said cell phone service has been one of the county’s most reliable forms of communication. He noted, however, that the county’s radio systems did not suffer any outages as a result of the storm. Brown also said that RACES, the county’s emergency amateur radio network, was activated over the weekend.
All in all, Brown said he’s pleased with the response to the storm so far.
“The county’s resources have been stretched very thin,” Brown said. “I think we’ve done a good job of responding.”
Arlington County has been working on various ways to help residents prepare for an emergency, to get information during an emergency, and to evacuate in the event of a major emergency.
In the video above, county officials discuss several initiatives, including the Arlington Prepares smartphone app, Arlington Alert emails and text messages, and permanent electronic message signs that will eventually be installed along Route 50 and other major local roads.
Also discussed: the county’s state-of-the-art traffic management center, which can adjust the timing of Arlington 282 traffic signals in the event of a weather emergency or an evacuation.
The National Weather Service has issued a Tornado Watch for Arlington and the rest of the D.C. region. The watch is in effect through 9:00 p.m.
The Arlington Office of Emergency Management issued the following statement about the impending severe weather earlier today:
The National Weather Service has advised that the metropolitan area can expect pop up spotty scattered showers/thunderstorms from mid to late afternoon today. This evening as the cold front approaches, the storm system will be more organized as it moves East. Between 7 and 10 pm, there is a better potential for large hail, 60 mph winds and possible tornado activity especially in those areas that see multiple thunderstorms. Rain totals will be 1-1/2 inches in those areas where multiple storms occur. Flooding may occur in those areas.
During a power outage Dominion Virginia Power has a toll free service number for reporting power outages. 1-866-366-4357. Call if you lose power and use the automated reporting system for fastest access.
Today is also the beginning of hurricane season. It is critical that everyone understand something about a hurricane. There are some simple, low-cost steps each of us and our families can take to get ready for hurricanes or any disaster: Be Informed, Make a Plan, Prepare an emergency kit, and Get Involved.
If you have a smart phone, download the free Arlington Prepares app. There is information about how to prepare, how to respond to specific emergencies and you may download your own personal and contact information. To get started, go to www.arlingtonva.us/oem.
You already receive Arlington Alerts, but the other ways to get emergency information are through the County’s web site, www.arlingtonva.us, 1700 AM radio, AVN Comcast 25 or Verizon 40 and local media.
Make a Plan:
Making a family disaster plan involves discussing the hazards and threats for your area and what your family would do during an actual emergency. As you create your plan, decide on a meeting place if your family cannot return home, designate an out-of-town friend or relative as a point-of-contact and plan for the specific needs of your household, such as an evacuation shelter for pets or transportation for medical equipment. For more information, visit www.arlingtonva.us/oem.
Prepare an Emergency Kit:
An emergency supply “Go Bag” kit includes, among other things, essential items to last at least three days such as a battery-powered radio and extra batteries, food and water, flashlights, a first aid kit and medications. For more specific information on what to include in your “go bag”, visit www.arlingtonva.us/oem. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management also has information on preparation for emergencies at www.vaemergency.com
There are several opportunities to become involved in emergency preparedness activities, including assisting should a hurricane hit Arlington. Become a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member. The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and Volunteer Emergency Support Team (VEST) uses volunteers in emergencies. For information on these volunteer programs, visit www.arlingtonva.us
Tips for Homeowners:
Now is a good time to stroll around your property and prune any dead branches from trees. Treat all downed lines and anything touching them as energized and dangerous! dlp/oem
The free app, which can be downloaded from the Android Marketplace and the Apple App Store, gives residents tips on what to do in the event of specific emergencies, provides a feed of Arlington’s emergency alerts, offers a checklist of emergency supplies and lists information about several emergency-related volunteer opportunities in Arlington.
Among the 10 emergencies covered in the “What Do I Do?” section are tornadoes (“if you are inside, seek a place of refuge such as a basement”), earthquakes (“many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris”), and chemical attacks (“immediately strip and wash… look for a hose, fountain or any source of water”).
The app was developed “in-house” by the Arlington Office of Emergency Management and Department of Technology Services. There’s currently no plan to launch an app for Blackberry devices.
Update at 11:55 a.m. — Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has declared a state of emergency in advance of the hurricane.
Arlington County is bracing for impacts from Hurricane Irene.
Irene, which is expected to be the strongest hurricane to hit the Northeast in decades, could bring torrential rains and high winds to the Mid-Atlantic region Saturday night and throughout the day on Sunday. In anticipation of the storm, the county is “mobilizing both people and equipment,” according to Jack Brown, Director of Emergency Management for Arlington County.
The police, fire and parks departments will be bringing in additional personnel this weekend, Brown told ARLnow.com. The county’s 911 call center will also have additional employees on hand, and the Office of Emergency Management will be staffed throughout the weekend.
County crews are cleaning out drains to ensure the expected heavy rains will be able to flow into storm sewers. The parks department is removing picnic tables and other equipment from areas near streams and river beds, in anticipation of flooding. The county is also “developing plans for shelters, if the need arises,” according to Brown.
The county and Dominion Power both say they’re preparing for downed trees and power lines in the hurricane’s wake. The county has backup communications systems — including satellite phones and amateur radio stations — in case cell phones or existing radio systems go down during the storm.
“It could be challenging, yes, but since 9/11 a lot of steps have been taken to ensure better communications,” Brown said.
Most importantly, says Brown, Arlington is working to get information about hurricane preparedness out to the public.
“The first concern is the public safety,” he said. “If we do have impacts from this storm, people need to be prepared for that… It’s all about personal and family preparedness.”
Brown said any sort of evacuation of Arlington looks unlikely at this point. In fact, he’s encouraging people to stay at home.
“In most cases, people are better off just staying home and hunkering down,” Brown advised. “Don’t go out on the road… just have enough food and supplies to weather the storm.”
“We don’t want people out in the middle of a crisis getting in the way,” he added.