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Arlington 911 dispatcher at the county’s Emergency Communications Center (via Arlington County)

Arlington County is developing an alert system aimed at improving its emergency response to behavioral health crises.

The aim of the system, dubbed the Marcus Alert, is to keep people in crisis — due to a mental illness, substance use disorder or intellectual and developmental disabilities — from being arrested and booked in jail.

It comes from the Marcus-David Peters Act, which was signed into law in late 2020 and is named for Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old biology teacher who was killed by a police officer in 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis.

Once operational, the system would transfer people who call 911 or 988 — a new national suicide and mental health crisis hotline — to a regional call center where staff determine whether to de-escalate the situation over the phone, dispatch a mobile crisis unit or send specially trained law enforcement.

Last summer, Arlington began developing its Marcus Alert plan, a draft of which needs to be submitted to the state by May 22. It’s asking residents to share their experiences with the county’s current behavioral health crisis response via an anonymous and voluntary survey open through mid-March.

Locals can also email the county to sign up to participate in focus groups, which will convene in early- to mid-March.

State law requires that the county’s final plan be implemented by July 1.

Arlington’s timeline for the Marcus Alert (via Arlington County)

“We are hopeful that with the Marcus Alert and increased community outreach and co-response, we will see a reduction in arrests of people with [serious mental illnesses],” Suzanne Somerville, the bureau director of residential and specialized clinical services for Arlington’s Department of Human Services, tells ARLnow. “The system is tremendously strained at this time and hospitalization for people that need it for psychiatric symptoms is not always easy to attain.”

DHS attributes the strain to COVID-19 and a lack of beds in state-run mental hospitals after the Commonwealth closed more than half of these hospitals to new admissions amid its own workforce crisis. This overwhelmed local hospitals and the Arlington County Police Department, and drove fatigued DHS clinicians and Arlington police officers to quit.

“Everyone is trying to do the right thing and get the client the services they need and deserve and we just don’t have the resources currently,” said Aubrey Graham, the behavioral health program manager for the Arlington County jail.

Bed shortages also impact court hearings, as many inmates with mental illnesses require competency restoration services to understand court proceedings and work with their defense attorney. Graham says inmates must go to Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services state hospitals, which limits beds even more.

Compared to other jurisdictions, Arlington sends proportionately more people to Western State Hospital for competency restoration, per data ARLnow requested from DBHDS. It also saw the greatest increase in admission rates between 2020 and 2021.

Competency restoration rates (courtesy of DBHDS)

Graham says she doesn’t know of any studies that explain why Arlington sees so many individuals with serious mental illnesses, but geography plays a role, as about 70% of people sent to state hospitals come from D.C., Maryland and other parts of Virginia. Only about 30% of those sent to state hospitals from Arlington are actually Arlington residents.

“Although there are a high number of competency evaluations requested in Arlington courts, the referrals are entirely appropriate, and most are deemed incompetent to stand trial,” Graham said.

That’s why police should not arrest them in the first place, says Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood, adding that people with mental illnesses are over-represented in the county jail, which is seeing a continued inmate deaths and may not have the resources to treat the needs of the mentally ill.

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Morning Notes

Mistargeted Alert Wakes Up Arlingtonians — Numerous Arlington residents from around the county erroneously received an emergency phone alert about a boil water advisory in Northeast D.C. around 2 a.m. Thursday morning. [Twitter]

Huske Talks About Olympic Experience — “By coming so close to winning an individual medal, then earning a second-place silver on a relay team, Torri Huske’s rated her recent swimming experience at the Summer Olympic Games as a success for the 2021 Yorktown High School graduate. ‘It was all a really good learning experience, and I took a lot away from the Games, like needing to work on the little things,’ Huske said. ‘The swimming was different that anything I had been to before because it was spread out over nine or 10 days. I’m very thankful for what I got to do.'” [Sun Gazette]

Amazon Pushes Back Office Return — “Amazon.com Inc. revised its back-to-office timeline again and told employees it wouldn’t resume regular in-person work until Jan. 3, according to an internal message viewed by the Business Journal. The company had set Sept. 7 as the official return date, after announcing it expected employees to be in the office at least three days per week.” [Washington Business Journal]

Youth Baseball Team in Nat’l Championship — “I write to congratulate our 9YO Arlington Storm Black team on finishing runner-up in the Cal Ripken World Series! No team in [Arlington Babe Ruth’s] 36-year history has had as successful a season… We could not be prouder.” [Twitter]

Crash Disrupts Traffic, Show on the Pike — “Crash in front of Arlington Cinema n Drafthouse. It’s delayed the start of tonight’s film.” [Twitter, Twitter]

ACPD Again Holding Community Police Academy — “The Arlington County Police Department is now accepting applications for the 25th Community Police Academy (CPA), formerly the Citizen’s Police Academy. The CPA is an educational program designed to create better understanding and communication between police and the community they serve.” [ACPD]

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Morning Notes

Memorial Ride for Arlington Cyclist — A memorial ride is planned tonight in D.C. for Arlington resident Thomas Hollowell, who was killed while riding his bike to work last week near the intersection of 12th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. [Facebook]

Master Bike Plan for Arlington — Planners are putting the finishing touches on which bike infrastructure projects to include in Arlington County’s updated master plan. Currently in: the Army Navy Country Club Connector. Currently out: a connection from the Marine Corps War Memorial to the Roosevelt Bridge. [TheWashCycle]

Grumbles About Pike ‘Premium’ Bus — One outspoken Twitter user is on a mission to highlight the shortcomings of the new Columbia Pike “premium transit network.” Some have said the long-promised bus improvements have been underwhelming and have suffered the same service issues of every other mass transit line in town. However, the same Twitter user’s attempt at a petition to “bring back the Arlington streetcar” only has one signature so far. [Twitter, Change.org]

Walmart Buys Eloquii — Fashion-forward, plus-size women’s clothing retailer Eloquii has been acquired by Walmart. The e-commerce company opened its first bricks-and-mortar location at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. [TechCrunch, Forbes]

Optimism for Malls — At a Bisnow event in Tysons yesterday, a panel of commercial real estate pros said shopping malls in urbanized areas like Tysons (and, by extension, Arlington) are better off than their more suburban counterparts that are suffering in the era of Amazon. In Arlington, the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and the soon-to-reopen Ballston Quarter account for a large portion of the local retail industry. [Tysons Reporter]

Reminder: Emergency Alert Test — Expect your phone to buzz and beep just after 2:15 p.m. as part of a nationwide federal emergency alert test. The alert will be sent via mobile carriers and the national Wireless Emergency Alerts system, not via Arlington County’s Arlington Alert. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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The average warning time for a tornado is 13 minutes. Would you be able to get your family to safety in 13 minutes? Would more time help?

The National Weather Service issues weather Watches when the potential for a weather incident exists, but how would you find out?

Be informed by signing up for Arlington Alert, the emergency notification system in Arlington County. It’s more than just notifications during major emergencies; you can also choose to receive alerts for weather, traffic closures and severe transit delays.

Currently, there are 25,763 people signed up for Arlington Alert; that’s less than 10% of the Arlington County population. Of those people, only 4,769 opted in to receive Flash Flood Warnings. These types of floods happen quickly, and have been happening in our area recently.

Would you be ready if that happened right now?

By Staying Aware, You Are Better Prepared!

September is National Preparedness Month and we challenge you to do one thing each week to get you and your family prepared.

  • Week 1: Sept 1-8 Make and Practice Your Plan
  • Week 2: Sept 9-15 Learn Life Saving Skills
  • Week 3: Sept 16-22 Check Your Insurance Coverage
  • Week 4: Sept 23-29 Save For an Emergency

Make an emergency plan and talk to your kids about it.

Make sure they know how to contact you or where your meeting location is if there is a fire in your home.

Learn first aid or sign up for ‘Until Help Arrives’, our hands-on training with the Arlington County Fire Department that teaches participants how to help until first responders arrive. Get an insurance check-up and set aside funds for an emergency.

Disasters don’t plan ahead, but you can. Prepare now!

Sign up for emergency notifications at ArlingtonAlert.com and follow us @ReadyArlington on Facebook and Twitter.

(Updated at 6 p.m.) Virginia State Police have issued an “Amber Alert” for a 12-year-old girl they believe was abducted from Reagan National Airport today (Thursday).

Police believe JinJing Ma is in “extreme danger” after a woman led her away from the arrivals area of the airport earlier today. Ma had just arrived from China as part of a tour group at the time of the alleged abduction.

Airport police believe the woman led Ma into a white Infiniti SUV with New York license plates. Police say a man was driving the vehicle, but otherwise don’t have any details on his description.

State police describe Ma as having black hair and brown eyes, standing 4’11” and weighing 90 pounds. She was last seen wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans and a black jacket.

The woman who led her away is described as an Asian woman with black hair, approximately 40 year old and wearing a black dress.

“[The abducted girl] received her passport just prior to checking in and left her group,” says the Amber Alert. “She met up with an unknown middle age Asian female, who assisted her in changing clothes. They then walked together to the arrivals area of the airport and disappeared out of camera view. Witness stated he may have seen same woman in NYC meet up with victim and hand her food.”

Police plan to release a video of the girl being led away later this evening.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority at 703-417-2400, or visit www.vaamberalert.com.

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Arlington County and the rest of the D.C. metropolitan area is under a Code Orange alert today (Friday) for its air quality.

With temperatures and humidity expected to build today and continue through the Fourth of July holiday, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments issued its alert, warning that sensitive groups could be affected and should avoid strenuous activity or outdoor exercise.

More from MWCOG and the National Weather Service:

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in association with Maryland Department of the Environment, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and District Department of Environment has issued a Code ORANGE Air Quality Alert Friday for the DC metro area.

A Code Orange Air Quality Alert means that air pollution concentrations within the region may become unhealthy for sensitive groups. Sensitive groups include children, people suffering from asthma, heart disease or other lung diseases and the elderly. The effects of air pollution can be minimized by avoiding strenuous activity or exercise outdoors.

For more information on ground-level ozone and fine particles… visit www.cleanairpartners.net.

MWCOG forecasts that the air quality will drop down to moderate levels this weekend.

Image via Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow service

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Morning Notes

Morning clouds over Pentagon City (photo courtesy Valerie)

ACPD Anti-DUI Event During Bar Crawl — The Arlington County Police Department will be holding an interactive anti-drunk driving event from noon to 5 p.m. during Saturday’s Halloween bar crawl in Clarendon. Part of N. Hudson Street will be closed as a result of the anti-DUI event. [Arlington County]

Dems Hoping for 100,000 Clinton Votes — Arlington Democrats are hoping their get-out-the-vote efforts result in 100,000 votes for Hillary Clinton in the county. Arlington could be the difference-maker in the race, determining whether Clinton wins or loses the key swing state of Virginia. In 2008 Barack Obama won 82,119 votes in Arlington. [InsideNova]

Live Election Broadcast — For the first time in our history, ARLnow is planning live video coverage of Tuesday’s election results. From about 7:30-9:30 p.m., assuming no technical difficulties, we will be broadcasting live from the local Democratic victory party at Sehkraft Brewing in Clarendon. Expect analysis of the local election results and interviews with elected officials, candidates and civic figures from all sides of the political spectrum. The live video feed will be included in our election results post that evening.

Arlington Alert Charity Promotion — Thanks to a sponsorship from the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union, during the month of November a donation will be made to one’s local charity of choice when you sign up for emergency alerts via Arlington Alert. [Arlington County]

Fort Myer Commuter Fair — About 88 percent of those who work at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall travel to their jobs by themselves. To try to encourage more carpooling and transit use, the county-run Arlington Transportation Partners recently held a Commuter Fair at the base. [Pentagram]

James B. Hunter Award Winners — The winners of this year’s James B. Hunter human rights awards were just announced. The winners were: Tiffany Joslyn (posthumously); Joan Ritter, MD; Bridges to Independence; Edu Futuro; the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington; and Busboys and Poets in Shirlington. [Arlington County]

Photo courtesy Valerie

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Sprint mobile phone customers may get a busy signal in Arlington and other parts of the D.C. region when they try to make an emergency call.

The Arlington Alerts system issued the following notice shortly after noon today.

Sprint cellular service is affected throughout the area. If you receive a busy signal when you call 9-1-1, you should attempt to text to 9-1-1, use a landline phone or use a cellphone covered by another provider.

The problem is also affecting Sprint customers in Fairfax County, the Washington Post reports.

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arlington-va-logoArlington County has a new system for announcing emergency alerts for residents, and those who are already signed up for Arlington Alerts are being encouraged to sign up for the new platform.

The new system will be live on June 25, as part of the region-wide Capitalert.gov system.

Users can determine how they receive an alert, such as via text message, email, cell phone, land line, instant message or fax, according to Arlington Office of Emergency Management spokesman John Crawford.

Users can also choose times of the day to block messages, and choose which alerts they receive. In addition, Crawford said, if a user works in Washington but lives in Arlington, they can enter multiple zip codes from which to receive alerts. They can also choose when they want to receive alerts and whether to put alerts into “sleep mode” at night.

“It’s important that we keep our residents and visitors informed, but we also want to give them a say in what information they receive and when,” Office of Emergency Management Director Jack Brown said in a press release. “The new and improved Arlington Alert System is the perfect solution for that.”

The new alert system is called Everbridge and it replaces the previous Roam Secure Alert Network, which the county had used since 2004. That system didn’t allow users to customize their alerts, according to the county.

Existing Arlington Alert subscribers will receive alerts under the old system, according to Crawford.

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Arlington County officials are warning of the possibility of severe weather tomorrow.

Forecasters say a cold front is likely to bring high winds and very heavy rain during the afternoon and evening hours.

The National Weather Service is reporting the possibility of widespread showers and thunderstorms expected across Virginia Tuesday into Tuesday night along and ahead of a strong cold front. There is potential for development of strong to severe thunderstorms with threats of damaging winds (10-25 mph with gusts up to 50 mph), isolated tornadoes and periods of heavy rainfall which could cause threat of localized flash flooding, especially Tuesday afternoon and evening. Please pay close attention to your local news and weather media outlets for further information.

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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.

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