Five and a half years after it was first proposed in Arlington, Text-to-911 capability is finally a reality.
The ability to send a text message to 911 launched today in Arlington. In a press release, officials encouraged those reporting an emergency to call instead of text, unless a disability or a safety risk prevents you from doing so.
From Arlington County:
Arlington County today launched Text to 9-1-1, making it possible to send a text message to our Emergency Communications Center if you can’t call 9-1-1.
“In an emergency, we always prefer that you call 9-1-1,” said Deputy County Manager for Public Safety James Schwartz. “But if you can’t call, you will now be able to text and get the help you need.”
Arlington joins other jurisdictions across the region and the nation who are adding Text to 9-1-1 to their emergency communications options, and reminding callers “call if you can, text if you can’t.”
“Use it only when you cannot establish voice communications or when speaking into a phone would present a significant safety risk,” Schwartz said. He noted, however, that Text to 9-1-1- is particularly useful for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired.
Voice calls to 9-1-1 are preferred because they make it easier for dispatchers to give commands that can be extremely useful in providing medical assistance such as CPR and basic first aid instructions.
“It is important that anyone who does have to use Text to 9-1-1 provide as much information as possible, including exact location and nature of the incident,” said Jack Brown, director of Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management.
How it works
Text-to-9-1-1 uses SMS text messaging technology. The Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) can now receive and send text messages to those in Arlington and Falls Church in need of emergency assistance who can’t make a 9-1-1 phone call. The system, Telecommunications System, Inc., also provides dispatchers with mapping capabilities to help pinpoint locations where text messages are received.
The system allows dispatchers to text up to 250 characters and can handle text messaging both in our main Emergency Communications Center as well as our back-up center.
Since Arlington County updated its website two years ago, officials have seen significant increases in the number of mobile site visitors and e-mail subscribers, making it more critical than ever for the site to stay optimized for its on-the-go users.
According to the county’s Digital Communications Manager Jennifer Smith, 37 percent of site traffic is from mobile devices, up from 25 percent before the upgrade. Mobile phones account for 30 percent of site traffic, with the remaining 7 percent attributed to tablets.
“When we first redesigned the site our goal was to make it mobile-friendly,” Smith said. “Having mobile use increase from about a quarter to more than a third is huge, and the importance of being mobile-friendly is more critical than ever.”
With the upgrade came new features designed to be especially easy for mobile users, including the site’s calendar feature Arlington Today, more forms available online that can be completed on a mobile device, and organizing the site by topic rather than by department.
The County also rolled out a new e-mail subscription services feature over the summer with an easy sign-up option on the site’s homepage. Users can choose from a list of more than 100 topics they would like to be notified about, from police-related news to trash and recycling updates.
Smith said more than 65,000 people now subscribe to the service, and the average user is subscribed to 2.3 different topics.
She added this progress has inspired the County to do make more improvements to its digital offerings in the new year.
This includes plans to “do more in the mobile application space” in 2016. Though the County already has an app for reporting problems, there’s opportunity to expand it and make more services easily accessible on mobile devices.
“Our goal is to continually look for ways to improve the site and make it easier for those people coming to it,” Smith said. “I don’t think any organization in this day and age is moving away from mobile. It was a key part of revamping the site a couple years ago, so we’ll continue to look for ways to improve in that space.”
Spokeo, an online white pages service, has released a list quantifying where Arlington transplants originally came from. It has done so by taking a look at out-of-town cell phone numbers associated with Arlington addresses.
According to Spokeo, the following are the top home cities for Arlington transplants — excluding locales around the D.C. and Baltimore metro area:
- San Francisco
- San Diego
- Los Angeles
- New York
The following are the top home states for Arlington transplants, excluding Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
- Colorado (4.0%)
- Pennsylvania (3.6%)
- Delaware (3.5%)
- Massachusetts (3.3%)
- Rhode Island (3.2%)
- New Jersey (3.0%)
- Connecticut (3.0%)
- Florida (2.9%)
- Georgia (2.5%)
- North Carolina (2.5%)
- Illinois (2.4%)
- New York (2.4%)
- California (2.3%)
Coming on the heels of Alexandria’s announcement that it will implement a pay by phone option at parking meters, officials say Arlington County will be doing the same next year.
The county’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) hopes to have the system up and running by the fall of 2014. Right now DES is waiting for the police department to update its parking enforcement system before moving forward.
DES Parking Manager Sarah Stott explained that the handheld devices currently used by parking enforcement officers are not connected to a wireless system. ACPD needs to purchase new wireless handheld devices that are connected to “the cloud” where all the pay by phone information is stored. Once the system is in place, officers can type in a license plate and a message will pop up if the meter user paid by cell phone. Some systems also allow officers to type in a location and instantly know which cars on that block paid by cell phone.
The county has received a number of inquiries about the possibility of installing the system, which Stott says is far more convenient than fishing for quarters or waiting for the current parking kiosks to print a time slip.
“We do get calls asking if we’re going to be getting pay by cell,” Stott said. “I think it will be positive, people will be very happy to get it.”
The county will proceed with finding a system vendor once the police department purchases new handheld units, which may happen by spring or summer of 2014. The three D.C. area jurisdictions with pay by phone capabilities all use different vendors — the District uses Parkmobile, Montgomery County uses MobileNow! and Alexandria will use Pango. Stott said Arlington will examine those vendors and others when determining which the county will choose.
Because no vendor has been chosen, the county is not sure exactly how the system will function. Typically, users with smart phones are able to add time to meters with a credit card via an app or by logging on to a website. Customers who do not have a smart phone should be able to add time by calling a phone number listed on the meter.
The county will still keep traditional parking meters and the kiosks that dispense paper tickets. Despite trouble with a vendor going out of business earlier this year, the iPark system also will remain in place. County Treasurer Frank O’Leary said Arlington was able to purchase the recharge codes for the existing iPark devices so customers can continue to use them. County workers are in the process of finding alternative devices for those who may wish to purchase one in the future. O’Leary likes the idea of providing the public with a number of options for parking payments.
“The more options you give people, the more likely they are to take advantage of the situation,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned there’s no single solution, there are multiple solutions. Give people alternatives and make this as painless as possible.”
O’Leary does not anticipate any issues with the county’s parking meter revenue when the new pay by phone system goes live. In fact, he indicated there’s a chance revenue could increase if more people use the county’s parking spots when they discover the ease of pay by phone.
“I think people will migrate to this rapidly because I don’t think many people like the pay and park, where you have to walk back to your car to put a piece of paper on your dashboard,” said O’Leary. “I don’t think this is going to pose any major headaches.”
It’s unclear exactly how long it will take to implement the pay by phone parking system throughout Arlington; that will be determined once a vendor is chosen. The vendor will work with the county to put up signs explaining the system, and that is often done in phases.
New APS Teachers to Begin Orientation — More than 400 newly-hired Arlington public school teachers are set to begin orientation sessions next week. The school system says it has hired nearly 90 percent of the teachers necessary to keep up with attrition and a growing student body. [Sun Gazette]
APS Debuts Smartphone App — Arlington Public Schools has unveiled a new iPhone and Android app for parents. The free app “features news and headlines, upcoming events, sports scores… and easy access to APS services such as MySchoolBucks, the Extended Day portal, lunch menus and calendars.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Great Falls Drowning Danger — The waters at Great Falls claim an average of seven lives per year, including three since June. The waters are especially deadly because of strong undercurrents in parts that look calm on the surface. [Washington Post]
Photo courtesy Ryan Kaltenbaugh
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the police department has issued a press release (after the jump) highlighting the need to pay attention while at the wheel, especially as more pedestrians and bicyclists hit the streets during the warmer weather months.
The press release also mentions impending state legislation that makes texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, a driver can only be charged for texting if pulled over for another violation — and the penalty is a piddly $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. The new legislation would allow police to pull over a motorist only for texting, and would significantly increase the penalty.
The bill originally called for fines of $500 and $250, but an amendment approved by the state Senate this week cuts that in half. The bill is now awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature. If signed, the law will take effect July 1.
ACPD says it is prepared to enforce the texting law.
“Once the law is in effect we will incorporate it into our nationally recognized traffic and pedestrian safety programs,” said department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “In terms of training, all Arlington County Police officers receive annual in-service training regarding new laws and legislative changes. The proposed Virginia texting law will be included in that training.”
A Maryland man was arrested Saturday night after he allegedly stole a female friend’s iPhone.
The man tried to surreptitiously smuggle the phone out of his friend’s apartment during a visit, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
While his friend was walking him to his car, her phone — which has a distinctive ringtone — started to ring, Sternbeck said. The woman tried to get the phone back, but the man got in his car and started to drive away, bumping the woman with the car in the process, according to Sternbeck.
The man was later arrested when he was pulled over for having improperly tinted windows. Police made the connection to the previous incident during the traffic stop, Sternbeck said. From this week’s Arlington County crime report:
ROBBERY, 02/23/13, 1800 block of Crystal Drive. At 8 pm on February 23, a known subject stole a victim’s iPhone from her apartment. The victim chased the subject to the parking lot where she was bumped with the subject’s vehicle as he attempted to flee the scene. The subject was located during a traffic stop for improper tint approximately three hours later. Durell Adrian Hines, 20, of Capitol Heights, MD, was arrested and charged with robbery. He was held without bond.
The rest of the crime report, after the jump.
Fisette Promises Details on Water Bottle ‘Crusade’ — Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette says he will provide additional details about his “crusade” against single-use water bottles — first announced at the Board’s New Year’s meeting — in April. Fisette did reveal that the anti-bottled water effort would involve a 15-member steering committee. [Sun Gazette]
New Metro Station in Rosslyn? — As part of Metro’s “Momentum” plan to revamp and expand the aging transit system, the agency has proposed building a new station in Rosslyn. Greater Greater Washington expounds upon that plan and examines the possibility of splitting the Blue Line at Rosslyn, building a separate Blue Line station, and running the line separately across the Potomac and into Georgetown. [Greater Greater Washington]
Metro Cell Phone Installation Delayed — Metro’s effort to enable cell phone service in its tunnels has hit a snag: after the contractor performing the work filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It could be 2016 before riders are able to use their cell phones in Metro tunnels. [Washington Examiner]
Above-Normal Lead Levels Found in Office Building — The General Service Administration has found above-normal lead levels in an office building in Crystal City. [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White.
On Monday (February 4) just before 8:00 p.m., police say the woman left her home and was walking in the 3800 block of N. 9th Street in Virginia Square when a man approached her. He allegedly grabbed her and held a box cutter to her throat while demanding money and a cell phone.
Police say the woman told the man she didn’t have any money, and the attacker then led her about half a block away where a second man was standing. The men then reportedly took the victim’s cell phone and fled on foot.
The first subject is described as a black male, 6’0” tall and 160 pounds. At the time of the crime, the subject was described as wearing a ski mask, grey winter jacket, light jeans and was brandishing a grey box cutter. The second subject is described as a black male, 5’10” tall and 200 pounds. He was said to have a round face and beard, and was wearing a white hat, royal blue jacket with an orange bottom, dark jeans and white shoes.
Anyone with information about the suspects or this crime is asked to call the police non-emergency number at 703-558-2222.
Bill Would Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving in School Zones — Sen. Janet Howell (D) has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving in a school zone or school crossing zone. Violations will be considered a traffic infraction and will be punishable by a fine of up to $250. [Richmond Sunlight]
Brink Supports Two-Term Va. Governor — Del. Bob Brink (D) of Arlington is one of several General Assembly lawmakers to introduce or patron a constitutional amendment that would allow the governor of Virginia to serve a second term. If passed, the amendment will take effect for the governor elected in 2017. [Richmond Sunlight]
USS Arlington Crew Members Get Decal Vote — Crew members of the USS Arlington, set to be commissioned soon, will get a vote on the new Arlington County parking decal. This year, the contest challenged entrants to design a decal incorporating the USS Arlington. Voting is open through Jan. 21. [Sun Gazette]
Civic Federation Supports LEAP — The Arlington County Civic Federation has approved a resolution to promote the non-profit Local Energy Alliance Program, or LEAP, which offers free home energy efficiency assessments to homeowners, along with cash rebates for energy efficiency measures. [Arlington Mercury]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Va. to Consider Tougher Texting Laws — In January, state lawmakers will consider bills that would stiffen the penalties for texting while driving in Virginia. Currently, texting while driving is a secondary offense — you can only be charged with it if pulled over for another violation — and the penalty is a $20 fine for the first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses. Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mt. Vernon) wants drivers to be charged with reckless driving if they get in an accident while texting. [Lynchburg News & Advance, Daily Press, WTOP]
Road Closures for ‘Jingle Bell Run’ — Parts of S. Joyce Street and Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City will be closed from 7:00 to 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning for the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis. Race attendees are encouraged to take Metro. [Arlington County Police]
Hynes Lauds Animal Welfare Efforts — Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes has issued a proclamation praising the Animal Welfare League of Arlington and The Humane Society of the United States “for working together to improve the treatment of animals, including farm animals in the food industry.” [Humane Society]
PG Lawmaker Called ‘Too Arlington’ — Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson, a progressive Democrat and noted environmentalist, recently lost his bid to become chairman of the Council. One lawyer who represents developers in Prince George’s County said of Olson: “Some people think he is too ‘Arlington.'” [Washington Post]
Voter Registration Deadline Today — If you want to vote in the upcoming presidential election and haven’t registered yet, today’s the last day to do so. Oct. 15 is the deadline to register to vote or update your address for the Nov. 6 election. Registration applications most be postmarked by today or submitted to Arlington’s Office of Voter Registration (2100 Clarendon Blvd) by 5:00 p.m. [Arlington County]
Marymount ‘Blue Goose’ Will Be Demolished — Marymount University’s distinctive but aging “Blue Goose” building at the corner of N. Glebe Road and N. Fairfax Drive in Ballston is set to be demolished and redeveloped. The actual demolition is still “a few years away,” according to a school spokeswoman, but the planning process is now getting started. [Arlington Mercury]
Metro to Miss Cell Phone Deadline — Tomorrow is the deadline set by Congress for Metro to have all of its underground tunnels and stations wired for cell phone service. The agency will miss the deadline and doesn’t expect to meet the mandate until the end of 2015. [Washington Examiner]
High School Football Update — In high school football action over the weekend, Yorktown came from behind to defeat Langley by a score of 24-14. The Patriots are undefeated with a record of 7-0. Washington-Lee and Bishop O’Connell both lost on Saturday afternoon. And Wakefield is still looking for its first win of the season after losing its homecoming game to Falls Church by a score of 41-6.
Update at 12:40 p.m. — Arlington County says its Emergency Communications Center is now accessible from cell phones, but other problems may remain.
More problems with the county’s 911 system are being reported as the area continues to recover from Friday’s storms.
Arlington County says its Emergency Communications Center is “experiencing problems with 911 calls from wireless phones.”
“Verizon is working to fix the problem,” the county said in a brief statement. “Please call our alternate emergency number at 703-741-3035 for assistance if you cannot get through on 9-1-1 or go to your local Fire Station.”
As stated during a press conference with the head of the county’s Office of Emergency Management earlier today, Arlington’s non-emergency number, 703-558-2222, may also be an option for cell phone users to reach emergency dispatchers.
On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of all cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. The proposed ban would even apply to hands-free devices, like talking on a cell phone via a Bluetooth headset.
Using a hand-held cell phone while driving is perfectly legal in Virginia. That’s in contrast with D.C., which requires that drivers use a hands-free device. Virginia does ban texting while driving, but it’s considered a secondary offense, meaning that you must be violating another traffic law in order for the police to pull you over and give you a citation.
The only exception to those rules is for school bus drivers, for whom it is a primary offense to use a cell phone, and for drivers younger than 18, for whom all cell phone use is banned.
Would you support a more comprehensive cell phone ban in Virginia?
(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) Smartphone users who want a browsing experience optimized for their touchscreen device finally have a full-featured mobile option when reading ARLnow.com on the go.
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