One year after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the Friends of the Arlington Public Library is donating $5,369 to help rebuild a damaged library on the island.
The Águedo Mojica Marrero Library at the University of Puerto Rico is still in rough shape, located in one of the hardest hit areas on Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. The building and the collections inside were both damaged by the storm.
According to Henrik Sundqvist, communications officer the Arlington Public Library, the Friends of the Arlington Public Library donates $1 to a charitable organization for each person who completes the summer reading program. This year, a total of $5,354 Arlingtonians completed the program, 700 more than last year, with an additional $15.17 from unsolicited cash donations from Arlington kids.
Additionally, the library will be hosting a free panel discussion about Puerto Rico, moderated by Michelle Fernandez, a librarian and University of Puerto Rico graduate.
The event will be held next Thursday (Sept. 20) from 7-9 p.m. in the Central Library (1015 North Quincy Street).
Photos contributed by Friends of the Arlington Public Library
When disaster strikes, roads are often one of the first necessities hit. Gridlock or damage to streets can make them impassible for cars.
And on Sept. 29, the county will host “Disaster Relief Trials” to simulate just such an emergency in Arlington. Participants will need to climb onto their bikes and travel across the county carrying food, water, medical supplies and messages to those in need. To do so, they will need to navigate without a GPS and traverse simulated dangerous terrain.
The challenge starts and ends at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, from which participants will ride out to various checkpoints and be forced to overcome an obstacle. This could be a physical barrier like a downed tree or something like high water at least 15 cm deep.
Additional challenges include delivery of a message, successfully using a fire extinguisher, and wound packing. Points are awarded based on weight of supplies transported and emergency preparedness challenges completed. The top three finalists in each category will be awarded prizes.
Registration costs for the event varies based on category.
- Responder I (Individuals, traditional bicycles) – Single Adult on standard bike, including bike racks, panniers, body packs, etc. Registration costs $40.
- Responder II (Individuals, cargo bicycle, and/or trailer) – Single Adult on cargo bike (front bucket or longtail), or standard bike with trailer. Registration costs $40.
- Family Responders (1-2 Adults, 1-4 children under age 14, any style of bikes) – Up to 2 adults and between 1-4 children under the age of 14, any style of bikes. Registration costs $75.
- Team Responders (2-3 Adults, any/all bike types) – Teams of 2-3 adults, any/all bike types. Registration costs $75.
- Citizen (Individual) – Single Adult with no cargo or checkpoint requirement; complete as many Emergency Preparedness Challenges as you want; non-competitive. Registration costs $10.
With a focus on bicycling through disaster zones, GPS systems and electronic assist bicycles are not allowed (or batteries for e-bikes removed). Registration is available online.
Work Begins to Replace Collapsed Pipe — A collapsed 18-inch stormwater pipe is being replaced on Arlington Ridge. The work is necessitating a detour for Arlington Ridge Road traffic between 23rd Street and S. Glebe Road. The stretch has been the site of numerous water main issues over the past few years. [Twitter]
Big Turnout for Caps Sendoff — Thousands of fans reportedly flocked to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston on Saturday to give the Caps a Stanley Cup sendoff as they traveled to Las Vegas for Game 1 of the finals. [WUSA 9]
Manager Warns Against Additional Debt — “[Don’t] do it. That’s Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s advice to County Board members, urging them to resist any temptation to disregard the government’s self-imposed, and for the most part sacrosanct, debt guidelines. The guidelines, long in place to help the county government retain AAA bond ratings, call for the cost of servicing municipal debt to remain less than 10 percent of the total overall county-government budget in any given year.” [InsideNova]
ACFD Lends a Hand in Ellicott City — Arlington County Fire Department units are helping out the flood recovery efforts in Ellicott City, Md. The catastrophic flooding in Ellicott City over the weekend prompted a regional disaster aid response. [Twitter]
DJO Wins State Softball Crown — The Bishop O’Connell Knights girls high school softball team won the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I tournament last week, capturing the state championship title for the seventh year in a row. [InsideNova]
Photo courtesy @thelastfc
ACPD Helping Out in Puerto Rico — Arlington County Police officers are on the ground in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, directing traffic at critical intersections in areas without power. The officers were sent there as part of a national disaster mutual aid agreement. Local residents, meanwhile, have been expressing their appreciation for ACPD’s presence. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]
Blind Triplets Utilizing New Tech — The blind triplets who recently made history by all becoming Eagle Scouts are also among the early users of new Aira glasses. The technology, launched in April, uses camera-equipped glasses to allow a remote agent to narrate what they see in real time, thus providing additional autonomy for the wearer. [Washington Post]
School Board Members Ditch Ties — At Tuesday’s Arlington School Board meeting, the two male members of the Board “committed sartorial faux pas,” in the words of the Sun Gazette, by not wearing ties. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Chris Guyton
Twelve officers from the Arlington County Police Department will be deployed to Puerto Rico to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria.
The officers will deploy in three staggered teams from tomorrow (Friday, November 10) until December 18. The teams will spend 16 days each in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico requested assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which is the national emergency management mutual aid system that facilitates state-to-state disaster assistance.
“I am proud that our officers are willing to dedicate their time to provide the citizens of Puerto Rico with an added sense of security in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Police Chief Jay Farr said in a statement. “Our officers take an oath to serve and protect and their willingness to deploy shows their commitment and dedication, not just to the Arlington County community, but to citizens everywhere.”
Kaine joined 36 mostly Democratic senators in signing a letter to President Trump outlining steps to boost the U.S. government’s disaster relief efforts on the stricken Caribbean islands, which in many areas lack power, running water and mobile phone service.
More from a press release from Kaine’s office:
In the letter, the Senators wrote, “We write to express deep concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria recently knocked out the entire island’s electric grid leaving at least 3.4 million Americans with no power, decimated countless structures, and claimed the lives of at least 16 individuals. Hospitals have no running water or basic supplies, and 95% of cellphone structures are still inactive. As a result, we still do not have an accurate assessment of the destruction.”
“In the words of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, the people of Puerto Rico have been ‘essentially devastated.’ The United States Virgin Islands has also suffered catastrophic damage. While they slowly begin their recovery, more help is needed.”
“At a time when there is not a second to lose and the health and well-being of millions of Americans in the U.S. territories depend on swift action, we have identified several areas where strong and decisive leadership is needed,” the letter continues.
The letter calls for eight specific actions to be undertaken by the Trump administration:
- Calls on President Trump to issue a full Disaster Declaration for the entire island of Puerto Rico, which has yet to happen.
- Calls on President Trump to appoint a Special Assistant for Rebuilding, to coordinate the multi-faceted federal efforts for Puerto Rico across all departments and agencies.
- Calls on President Trump to request more funding to assist Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program.
- Calls on President Trump to utilize all federal resources to restore power, including sending Department of Energy experts; 500 utility employees; 100 fuel trucks; and 200 generators.
- Calls on President Trump to send more Department of Defense assets: construction battalions to repair power and transportation infrastructure, command and control aircraft for air traffic control; helicopters for search and rescue; and 1,500 service members to provide disaster and humanitarian assistance.
- Calls on President Trump to work with Congress to waive the local cost share requirement for FEMA public assistance disaster funding for all categories of FEMA public assistance.
- Calls on President Trump to send assets and expertise from across the federal government to restore communications, including from Department of Commerce, FCC, Coast Guard, and DOD.
- Calls on President Trump to ensure that FEMA, Coast Guard, and DOD work together effectively to restore all ports to working condition.
The letter was also signed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senators Nelson (D-FL), Markey (D-MA), Baldwin (D-WI), Gillibrand (D-NY), Schatz (D-HI), Carper (D-DE), Hassan (D-NH), Bennet (D-CO), Durbin (D-IL.), Hirono (D-HI), Van Hollen (D-MD), Shaheen (D-NH), Booker (D-NJ), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Heinrich (D-NM), Menendez (D-NJ), Feinstein (D-CA), Murphy (D-CT), Blumenthal (D-CT), Coons (D-DE), Brown (D-OH), Klobuchar (D-MN), Merkley (D-OR), Peters (D-MI), Wyden (D-OR), Casey (D-PA), King (I-ME), Murray (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Duckworth (D-IL), Stabenow (D-MI), Franken (D-MN), Harris (D-CA), and Leahy (D-VT).
The matter of keeping up with current technology is prompting county workers to investigate whether Arlington’s 911 system can soon upgrade and add a texting option. While it appears texting eventually will be added to the mix, it isn’t imminent.
“Certainly texting is something we want to get to, especially when someone is in a compromised position where they can’t talk on the phone,” said Arlington County Office of Emergency Management Director Jack Brown. “It’s something I believe is in the future.”
A few communities across the country — such as parts of Tennessee, Iowa, North Carolina and Vermont — have implemented or are experimenting with “Next Generation 911.” The Federal Communications Commission — which in 2010 held a press conference at Arlington’s Emergency Communication Center touting Next Gen 911 technology — announced in December that the top four cell phone carriers in America agreed to speed up the availability of the service, ensuring that 90 percent of the country’s cell phone users would have the capability by May 2014.
Although cell phones will be enabled for emergency texting, few 911 dispatch centers have the ability to receive texts. The Next Gen 911 systems are largely in their infancy and gaps exist to such a degree that officials in Arlington prefer to wait until the technology becomes further perfected.
“We want to put our money and time into the right place the first time,” said Emergency Communications Center (ECC) Deputy Commander Jeff Horwitz. “Prematurely, a resource could be more harmful than waiting to release it. So we’re really nervous about people sending texts to 911 before it’s ready.”
The current programs do not have provisions to allow 911 dispatchers to immediately determine a text sender’s location like they can with a phone call. Some communities moved forward with the texting system even without the ability to pinpoint where an emergency occurred, but Arlington is not willing to take that risk. Additionally, the texting system doesn’t allow dispatchers to determine if a person is quietly awaiting more instructions or if the emergency has resolved itself.
“When you hang up, our system knows you dropped a call. When you text, I don’t know when you’re done. Are you there? Are you being attacked? Are you unconscious? I don’t have any info telling me your call is dropped,” Horwitz said.
Perhaps the most pressing concern surrounding emergency texting is the inability to communicate immediately with callers. Although situations arise in which callers cannot speak to dispatchers, such instances are relatively rare. Typically, dispatchers are able to get more information from callers, soothe them and even offer potentially life saving assistance. It would prove far more difficult for dispatchers to help someone administer CPR, for example, if the person attempted to text while doing chest compressions.
“We really like to be able to talk to the people,” Brown said. “I can just envision someone texting 911 and someone trying to text back instructions. We haven’t worked that out yet.”
Both Horwitz and Brown stressed that implementing a flawed system could prove disastrous. Arlington had a glimpse into the seriousness of a failed 911 system during last year’s derecho, and nobody is interested in repeating that type of scenario.
“There’s a lot of redundancy and diversity to make sure systems maintain continuity of operations. During the derecho we lost a plethora of resources, but had others to make sure it was safe,” Horwitz said. “We spend a lot of time and money and effort to make sure we have redundancy and protection and diversity. We’re going to apply the same approach to texting.”
The county did experiment with texting and tweeting after that storm, encouraging people to get in contact via these alternate means when the phone system went down. But it was viewed more as a last ditch effort, not as a fail-safe measure.
“After the derecho we did get a lot of great info, people texting about lights out. But our fear is that someone would text an emergency and we’d miss it. We’re just not there yet,” Brown said. “We’re responsible for public safety in Arlington and we take it very seriously. When folks can’t get through to 911 that’s dangerous. We are so lucky that somebody didn’t die or there wasn’t a fire or something.”
Another issue brought to the forefront by the derecho is how to handle a potential flood of texts, particularly immediately upon inception of an upgraded 911 system. The ECC handled its highest daily volume of calls in 2012 on the day of the storm (June 29), totaling more than 2,100. Consider, also, that the proliferation of cell phones has created an environment in which the average accident on I-395 or I-66 may generate up to two dozen phone calls to the ECC. Officials point to both examples while expressing worry that the ease of texting may cause an overwhelming response that the system isn’t yet prepared to handle.
“As soon as we open that flood gate, they will text when they could make a phone call, and it could take twice as long to process,” said Horwitz. “Once you tell the public you can text us, you better darn well be able to handle all those text messages. A lot of people ask, ‘I can text my friends and family, why can’t you text 911?’ But if you add all these challenges and variables, it really opens a lot of eyes.”
Eventually, the upgraded system should be able to accept photos and videos along with texts. Still, dispatchers prefer to receive calls and request that when the system goes online residents only text when truly unable to make a phone call.
For now, Arlington’s system will remain as-is while county workers continue researching Next Gen 911, and figure out how to make the concept safe enough to work here.
“Texting was never really part of the 911 infrastructure, it’s really a social networking thing. So we’re playing catch up trying to find a solution. We want to catch up with social media and other tools out there,” Horwitz said. “I wish I had a better answer. But to be honest, the biggest concern is to make sure we do it right the first time.”
The students, fifth-grader Keishu Watanabe and his sister, second-grader Saho (both seen in the video, below), moved from Arlington to Tokyo with their parents just weeks before the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Northern Japan earlier this year. With a personal connection to the disaster, “graduating” fifth-grade students and parents at Tuckahoe decided to raise money to help the victims.
Tomorrow, starting at 7:00 p.m., the school will host an “Anime Movie Night” featuring a screening of Ponyo, the Japanese adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The family-friend film has been dubbed into English, thanks to the voices of Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon and Betty White.
The screening is free and open to the public, but children must be accompanied by an adult. Donations, raffle proceeds and bake sale revenue will go to the ‘Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Fund.’ Kids are encouraged to wear pajamas and a yukata (robe), grab some glow necklaces and munch on arare (Japanese rice crackers).
Even though they’re halfway around the world, students at Keishu and Saho’s new school are so excited about the fundraiser that they banded together to make Tuckahoe a Senbazuru, a large hanging of 1,000 hand-made paper cranes. The gift — a symbol of peace and friendship — was sent to the school, where officials are now deciding on a prominent place to display it, according to Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.
Five years ago, Suzette Walker was stranded inside her empty apartment building in New Orleans. Flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina had surrounded the building. For eight days, Walker survived in an apartment hallway, until she was finally rescued via helicopter.
Now a “proud Arlington resident,” Walker recounted her survival story for the county-run Arlington Virginia Network. She recalled how she had a suitcase packed when Katrina hit, because she had been booked to go on a Carnival Cruise later that week. She also recounted how the kindness of a stranger helped her survive the ordeal.
Walker made it to Arlington by accident. She was on a flight to Houston to stay with family when the captain announced that Texas was no longer taking refugees and that the flight was now going to Washington, DC. Arlington, Walker said, put out the welcome mat after she arrived and she has been here ever since.
Watch the nine minute video, which includes actual footage of Walker’s helicopter rescue, below.