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Arlington’s 911 Center Fields Thousands of Hang Ups

About 37 times per day, on average, someone in Arlington calls 911 and then hangs up the phone.

It may not seem like such a big deal, but those calls come at a cost: of the dispatcher’s time — 3 minutes per call, more than an hour and a half a day — and sometimes the time of police officers who have to respond to a hang-up caller’s home to make sure they are okay.

The numbers are big when you add them up: nearly 20,000 hang up calls over the past 18 months and 1,000 hours of call taker time spent handling them.

To help combat that, Arlington County is asking people who accidentally call 911 to stay on the line and let the dispatcher know it was a mistake, instead of simply hanging up.

The county sent out the following press release on the matter on Wednesday.

If you accidentally call 9-1-1, stay on the line and let the call taker know it was a mistake. This allows the call taker to resolve your call more quickly and be ready for the next call coming in.

In the last 18 months, Arlington County’s Emergency Communications Center (ECC) processed 19,906 abandoned calls, also called “9-1-1 hang ups.” Here’s how it all works:

  • As soon as a 9-1-1 call is initiated, it immediately enters the call processing system.
  • If the person making the call hangs up at any time after the call is initiated, the call is still presented to a call taker.
  • The call taker then attempts to contact the caller to ensure everything is okay.
  • Up to three return phone calls are made to the caller, including leaving a voicemail when available.
  • If the call originates from a landline phone, police are dispatched to check on the welfare of persons at that address.
  • If call takers can make contact and are assured there’s no problem, they cancel the dispatch of police officers.
  • On average, it takes three minutes for a call taker to process a 9-1-1 hang-up. That’s time a call taker isn’t available to receive other 9-1-1 calls. ECC call takers have spent almost 1,000 hours handling hang-ups over the last 18 months.

Remember, if you accidentally call 9-1-1, stay on the line. This allows call takers to be available for the next call, which may be a life-or-death situation.

And don’t forget, for those instances when you’re unable to call, you can now send a 9-1-1 text to our Emergency Communications Center.

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Morning Notes

County HQ Renovation Vote Delayed — The Arlington County Board last night agreed to defer consideration of renovations to county government headquarters until April. The Board will discuss the “‘opportunity costs’ for the $10 million in rent abatements that will fund part of the renovation project,” in the context of the current county budget discussions, according to Board Chair Katie Cristol. [Twitter]

Arlington Declines Amazon FOIA Request — A Freedom of Information Act request for more information about the county’s Amazon HQ2 bid, sent from the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell, was denied on the grounds that the information was “exempt from disclosure.” At the County Board meeting this past weekend, several speakers called on the county to release more information about what it has offered Amazon. [Twitter, WTOP]

Letter: APS Should Revise Gym Shorts Policy — Eighth-grade students wrote a letter to the editor encouraging Arlington Public Schools to revise its policy on girls’ gym shorts. Per the letter: “The shorts we are required to wear by the school system cause many of us embarrassment because the wide, open legs allow others to see our undergarments, especially during floor exercises. Additionally, the current gym shorts are too big for petite girls.” [InsideNova]

Arlington TV Now in HD — “You can now watch Arlington TV (ATV), the County’s government cable channel, in high definition (HD) on Comcast Xfinity. From live County Board meetings to original programming about Arlington, viewers with HD sets can now watch the same programming on Channel 1085 on Comcast Xfinity’s HD tier.” [Arlington County]

Auditor Releases Report on ECC Overtime — Arlington County Auditor Chris Horton has released a report on overtime incurred by the county’s Emergency Communications Center, which handles 911 calls and dispatches first responders. The ECC’s overtime costs were about $1.4 million last year. Horton found that “a more efficient training process could result in greater staffing efficiency, and potentially reduce overtime expenses.” [Arlington County]

Four Phases of Snow Removal — For those who need a reminder after this anemic winter, a YouTube video explains the county’s four-stage snow removal process. [YouTube]

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Morning Notes

Arlington Gets New Emergency Management Director — Arlington County has named Aaron Miller as its new Director of the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. He is currently the Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for the City of New Orleans. [Arlington County]

Gunston Students Win Anti-Bullying Video Competition — Two eighth-grade girls from Gunston Middle School have won a second-place prize from the AT&T Film Awards for their cyberbullying prevention video. The duo will receive $2,000 in camera equipment and a one-day workshop at Gunston with professional filmmakers. [WJLA]

Vihstadt Could Face Tough Reelection — Democrats are energized by their opposition to President Donald Trump, and that could mean an especially challenging reelection for independent County Board member John Vihstadt. A blue wave in the 2018 midterms may make Vihstadt more vulnerable to his eventual Democratic challenger, one local political blogger suggests. [Blue Virginia]

Expensive Morning Commute on I-66 — “The toll to travel along eastbound Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia hit $46.75 Wednesday morning, about a week after it notched a record high.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Arlington and Alexandria to Cooperate on Upgrades to 911 Systems

Arlington County and the City of Alexandria will be working together on further upgrades to their respective 911 systems.

The Arlington County Board is set to approve a Memorandum of Understanding at its meeting on Saturday (October 21), paving the way for cooperation with the Alexandria City Council and interoperability between the two 911 systems.

Last year Arlington added text-to-911 capability, 5.5 years after first announcing, during a visit from the then-FCC chairman, that it was working to give residents the ability to send text messages to 911. Other “Next Generation 911” capabilities are still in the works.

In a report on the MOU, county staff said the two jurisdictions working together will help “improve operational standards and increase public safety in the region,” as part of a regional goal to improve the efficiency of handling emergency calls.

“Towards that end, Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have proposed an MOU for the planning, design, procurement, installation, configuration, operation and lifecycle management of a new shared NG 9-1-1 system to support these goals of interoperability and improve efficiency of call processing and public safety emergency response,” staff wrote. “Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have both planned for and allocated funding to improve their 9-1-1 call processing systems.”

The MOU will help create an integrated system for both jurisdictions, meaning they can process both emergency and non-emergency calls from either jurisdiction’s primary and backup 9-1-1 center.

Both will also be able to answer each other’s telephone calls when the other cannot do so, such as during a system failure or an evacuation.

The county will be the “fiduciary agent” for the scheme, meaning it handles all the finances. Alexandria will provide an inter-jurisdictional transfer of money to fund its side of the project.

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County Department Changes Name, Designs New Logo

One of Arlington County’s safety departments has undergone a staff-led rebranding effort, complete with a new name and a new look.

As of July 1, emergency management employees and those in the county’s Emergency Communications Center work in the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. Department staff voted for the name from several suggestions.

“While we do not often change the name of our departments, and not all departments have logos, in the past 15 years some have had name changes,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. Two examples are the current Department of Environmental Services and the Department of Parks and Recreation, which both underwent reorganizations.

At the heart of the Office of Emergency Management’s rebranding is an effort to be more inclusive of the entire department’s staff. The two initially had been separate divisions — OEM fell under the fire department and ECC under the police department — but they merged into the same department in 2004. Still, they kept their separate functions: Emergency management staff plan public preparedness campaigns and hazard and crisis mitigation, while communications staff run the 911 call center and dispatch first responders to the public.

The name, however, technically only covered the emergency management section, not the communications staff. Department director Jack Brown sought out a new name that more accurately represents both functions.

“The mission sets are a bit different, but bringing them together under one department makes a lot of sense,” said Brown. “The previous name only reflected part of the mission. We are on the same team, and our name now reflects that.”

Schwartz confirmed that these types of name changes should benefit both the county staff and the public. “Our goal is to ensure that each department’s mission and purpose is clear, both internally and publicly… We believe the new name makes the work of this critical team clear to all,” he said.

Instead of hiring an independent consultant for the rebranding, the project was fueled entirely by ECC and OEM staff, including the logo design. The logo incorporates elements representing various aspects of the department’s safety missions. For example, the radio tower represents communications, and the lightning and rain drops represent preparedness for weather events. The individual parts are encompassed within a pentagon shape.

“Our set of missions are within that pentagon. It’s a symbol, it reminds us why we’re here,” Brown said. “We’re here not just because of the Pentagon and 9/11. We’re here because really bad things happen and we want to prevent them from happening. If they do happen, we’re here to help the public get through it.”

That being said, Brown adds: “But these symbols are nothing without our people and their character. Our brand is our professionalism, our work ethic and our mutual commitment to public safety. I think these changes reflect that and I’m proud of this department and its future.”

Brown has been contemplating the rebranding for a couple years but set the plan into motion last fall. He received an overwhelmingly positive response when he asked for employee feedback about the idea, and some employees volunteered to help with the project.

The new brand’s launch was intentionally timed to reduce effects to the community. “We’re not going to do it in the middle of budget cycle, we’ll do it at the beginning of a fiscal year,” Brown said. That way, none of the budget documents for fiscal year 2017 needed to be remade and the department could start fiscal year 2018 with its new name.

To further reduce expenses, the department will not overhaul all items bearing its old name and logo in one fell swoop. Employees have been encouraged to make no-cost changes such as updating websites, presentations and email signature lines with the new name and logo. Plus, some low-cost items such as letterheads and entrance signs will be reprinted over the next few weeks. But lower priority items including business cards and branded clothing will remain unchanged for the time being.

“I’m very mindful of the county budget and its limited resources. Something like this shouldn’t break the bank,” Brown said. “Over time, as normal expendables need to be replaced we can make those changes. I’m not going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars of taxpayers money because of a changed logo and name.”

So far, employees seem to have a positive view of the changes. “I think they’re proud of it,” Brown said of the rebranding and the teamwork that went into it. “We’re all here for the same purpose: to keep Arlington safe. We have to take care of the public and also each other.”

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Sprint Customers May Get Busy Signal When Trying to Call 911

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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County PSA: Text 911 If You Can’t Call

Arlington County is out with a new video Public Service Announcement, reminding residents that they can now text 911 if they can’t call.

The video shows a humble office worker saving the day when he spots a bad guy trying to break into cars in his parking garage.

For the record, the “bad guy” in the video, Arlington County Public Information Officer Peter Golkin, is in fact regarded as one of the nicest guys in county government. Also, as an avid bike commuter, it’s quite doubtful that he would ever feel the need to steal a car.

More information about Arlington’s text-to-911 initiative can be found on the county website.

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Text-to-911 Service Launched Today in Arlington

A 911 dispatcher in Arlington's Emergency Communications CenterFive 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.

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Arlington 911 Trainee Accused of Sex Crime

Arlington County Emergency Communications CenterA noted anti-bullying activist who now works in the Arlington Emergency Communications Center has been charged with sex crimes with a minor.

The Arizona Republic reported last month that Caleb Laieski faces 13 charges in Arizona stemming from an alleged sexual relationship with a boy under the age of 15, a felony even though Laieski himself was a minor at the time. According to Laieski, he has a “consensual relationship” with a 14-year-old boy when he was 16 or 17.

Laieski rose to national prominence in 2010 when he spoke out against the bullying of gay teens in the Phoenix area. He later lobbied Congress to pass anti-discrimination legislation and spoke with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden about issues affecting gay youth.

Laieski, 18, was hired by Arlington County as a 911 dispatcher trainee in May. He was placed on administrative leave for three weeks after the county learned about the charges against him, but he’s now back on the job in an administrative capacity, according to Capt. Adrienne Quigley, Deputy Director of the Arlington Emergency Communications Center. He will continue to work in an administrative capacity pending the outcome of the legal proceedings in Arizona, said Quigley.

“We’re just going to let the criminal justice system run its course,” she said.

File photo

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ACFD Outfits Stations with ‘Safe Haven Lobbies’

If you find yourself in immediate physical danger while walking through a neighborhood, heading to a nearby fire station may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But the Arlington County Fire Department hopes to change that with its “Safe Haven lobbies.”

Although it is not yet widely known, a number of the county’s fire stations have been outfitted with special lobby features to protect a person who goes there for help.

The person in danger can go through the outside doors and into the fire station lobby, where the second set of doors leading to the rest of the fire station is always locked. When the person pushes the button on an emergency box inside the lobby, the outside doors automatically lock and the box calls 911. Someone at the county’s Emergency Communications Center (ECC) answers as if it were a typical 911 call placed from a phone. They speak to the person to determine the type of emergency and will then dispatch the appropriate emergency responders to the location.

There are cameras on the ceiling of the lobby that turn on when the emergency button is pushed. While waiting for police or fire fighters to respond, staff at the ECC will monitor the cameras to see what is happening during the call. The outside lobby doors will remain locked until ECC workers hang up the call when they determine the caller is safe.

The system can be used at any time, even if the station is empty while fire fighters are out on a call.

“The fire house is somewhere you can always come if you’re in danger. If you need help or have to call 911, you can come to any fire house,” said ACFD spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani. “It’s important to know that if you live close to one of these locations, one of the five that have it, that this exists and it’s another safety for you.”

All of the newer fire stations — 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 — have a Safe Haven equipped lobby. Fire Station No. 9 was the first to be outfitted with the system when it was renovated in the late 1990s. The older stations were not built with lobbies, but the goal is to eventually install this type of a system in all of Arlington’s stations when they are upgraded or replaced.

So far nobody has used the system, but it’s unclear if that is because citizens haven’t had the need or if they’re not yet aware the Safe Haven lobbies exist.

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Inside Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center

Arlington's Emergency Communications Center“Arlington 911, where is your emergency?”

A call comes in for a seemingly typical vehicle accident on a seemingly typical morning in Arlington. But for the rattled caller, the situation is anything but typical. Enter Lynne Putnam, Emergency Communications Tech III. Putnam has 30 years of experience as a 911 dispatcher, 27 of those spent in Arlington County. She attempts to soothe the caller while transferring the person, because it turns out the accident did not occur in Arlington’s jurisdiction.

“Stay on the line, ma’am, I’m sending you to Park Police.”

Putnam remains on the line with the caller until she can hear the person speaking with a representative for the U.S. Park Police. As with this case, Putnam frequently must make sense out of a caller’s choppy phrases and gather all the facts she can. Often, callers panic and collecting the necessary information becomes a more daunting task than it may first appear.

“I think the part I like best is I’m able to help people in their time of need,” said Putnam. “I like being the calming voice on the other side helping you through your emergency.”

Adding to the difficulty of call taking is the ECC goal to answer each 911 call within 90 seconds. Although not easy to rapidly collect information and then move on to the next call, it’s the ECC employees’ speedy actions that help maintain Arlington County Fire Department’s four minute average response time.

“We’re really proud of that,” said Putnam.

Arlington's Emergency Communications CenterAnswering 911 calls is only part of the job for Putnam and her co-workers at Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center in the Courthouse neighborhood; they also train as police and fire dispatchers. Although it takes about 18 months for the average employee to become fully trained in all three disciplines, it allows for more flexibility and employees can help out wherever needed.

Dispatchers are the voices the public hears when listening to scanners. They deal with calls to the non-emergency police line as well as emergencies called in to 911. Based on the information entered into the system by the 911 call takers, dispatchers determine which response units should head to the scene and how many units should respond. They examine which units are closest and call them to the scene via police and fire radios, explain the emergency as best they can and sometimes give directions.

“The mechanics of the job look easy, answering phones and inputting information,” said Emergency Communications Tech III Sheree Rymenams. “But there’s a lot of judgment involved for each call.”

Dispatchers say occasionally their jobs can be “like that telephone game” in that the details or severity of the original call can end up being nothing like what officers actually find on the scene. With the long hours, multi-tasking and intense situations sometimes comes nervousness, despite having cue cards at each cubicle with prompts for what to ask in a wide variety of situations. After all, emergency responders’ and citizens’ lives are on the line.

“You can’t worry constantly. You just have to do what you’re trained to do, what you’re supposed to do,” said Rymenams. “It’s a team effort.”

Arlington's Emergency Communications CenterDispatchers work in pods next to the 911 call takers, and the employees rotate jobs every four hours. In addition to keeping all of the workers’ skills fresh, the rotation prevents burnout.

“It’s never routine. It’s never the same old, same old. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, something else happens,” said Putnam. “It keeps your brain sharp, keeps you on your toes.”

Up to this point, workers have had to endure 12 hour shifts, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. or vice versa. They switch from days to nights mid-week. Employees are looking forward to January, when a new policy will result in six different shifts and a shorter work day. Regulations governing mandatory time off will remain the same: Employees cannot work more than 16 hours at a stretch and must have a minimum of eight hours between shifts.

With so much to remember in such intense situations, the ECC workers say their yearly training is beneficial and important. They have a minimum of 16 hours of training every year, more for supervisors. Employees need additional training for each step they advance and for each additional task they are certified in.

As mentioned in February, Arlington’s ECC has been researching the best ways to integrate new technologies like Next Gen 911, which could allow residents to text for help in emergencies. Not all of the new options are feasible in Arlington, but certain others — such as Twitter monitoring — might be able to be integrated.

“Technology is changing so quickly, we’re just trying to keep up,” Putnam said. “Every time you try something, another new thing takes its place.”

Arlington's Emergency Communications CenterOne new feature the ECC team implemented in October is the Watch Desk. A room adjacent to the main 911 call center contains four large screens on the wall and computers where employees can monitor cameras throughout the county. They can access and remotely move the county’s traffic cameras to view incidents that are called in. They also can view VDOT cameras, cameras affixed to county buildings and police cameras.

Workers watching the incidents report anything they see that could aid emergency responders. Sometimes police haven’t made it to the scene yet and could miss crucial information, and other times the ECC employees simply offer a different viewpoint from what teams on the ground can see.

“We can assist the police as another set of eyes,” said Watch Officer Chris Satterfield. “We’re an observe and report type of office. One small thing could be small now, but grow very quickly into something. We just have to make sure everyone knows in advance.”

An example of the new Watch Desk in action occurred during the October 30 scaffolding collapse on Columbia Pike. ECC employees were able to zoom in with a nearby camera and offer information to police officers and rescuers at the scene.

In regard to any privacy issues, Satterfield says that hasn’t been a problem so far. He noted that stepping into a public space technically negates many of an individual’s privacy rights. Satterfield did mention that the ECC does not record the cameras and employees only monitor them when an incident arises.

Arlington's Emergency Communications Center“We don’t sit there and actively monitor the cameras waiting for something to happen. We only monitor them if something is going on,” Satterfield said. “When we’re not using the camera shots, they’re wide angle, panoramic. We only zoom in when we’re using them for incidents.”

Another upgrade in the works is the county-wide installation of fiber optic lines. This will allow ECC workers to assist remotely with tasks that previously had to be performed on the scene. For example, Putnam said if a major disaster were to occur in the metro region, fiber optic lines would allow workers to remotely program all of the Arlington traffic lights to get people out of the county. Right now, that only can be done in person by manually programming each traffic signal box.

All 911 calls are recorded and dispatchers can access the audio for about 90 minutes. After that, they’re archived and stored for 365 days. Arlington’s ECC has a policy not to release the recordings to the media or residents who request them. They will, though, release them occasionally as evidence in criminal cases. Some of the employees have had to testify in court about what happened when they answered a certain 911 call. That occurs, explained Putnam, in rare situations such as someone calling in and confessing, “I just killed someone.”

Arlington's Emergency Communications CenterInstead of dwelling on those cases, the employees by and large choose to focus on the positive impact they have had on the community. Although it’s not widely publicized, a number of them have received awards for helping to save someone’s life over the phone. Take, for instance, the worker who modestly shrugged while explaining she helped save a baby’s life by walking the caller through each step of CPR. For ECC employees, it’s all in a day’s work.

“We’re all dedicated professionals. We just want to take care of the county,” said Putnam. “I hope you never have to call, but if you do, we’re here for you.”

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Fire Raises Resident Concerns About 911 System

House fire in Lyon ParkSome 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.”

Arlington County 911 dispatch centerCrawford 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.”

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Public Safety Personnel Honored for Heroic Acts, Service

Arlington police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and 911 operators were honored today (Wednesday) at the 31st annual Valor Awards ceremony.

The awards ceremony, organized by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, was held at the Ft. Myer Officers’ Club at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Arlington County public safety personnel who have demonstrated extraordinary heroism or exceptional performance were presented with awards, certificates and medals.

Among those awarded were:

  • Donald “DJ Winsock, a 911 operator whose CPR instructions saved the life of a woman who suffered a medical emergency in Rosslyn on August 21, 2012.
  • Sgt. Jack Lantz, a nearly 30-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, for meritorious service over the course of his career.
  • Sgt. David Bowers, and deputy sheriffs Efthimios Alpos, Monica-Lyons-Carr and Arthur Pitts, who saved the life of an intoxicated woman who tried to commit suicide in a holding cell, after being arrested at Reagan National Airport on Nov. 10, 2012.
  • Sgt. Richard Laureano, of the Sheriff’s Office. Laureano used an automated external defibrillator to revive a boy who collapsed during a wrestling match in Woodbridge, while off-duty on Feb. 2, 2013.
  • Capt. Kevin Reardon, for 26 years of meritorious service to the Arlington County Police Department.
  • Cpl. Richard St. Clair and Officer Patrick Maxwell, for valor while attempting to help Alexandria paramedic Joshua Weissman, who fell 30-feet off a bridge and later died while responding to a car fire on I-395.
  • Cpl. David Munn, Officer Daniel Gardner, and Officer Hilary Maloney, for physically restraining a suicidal military veteran from jumping off the 18th floor of a Pentagon City apartment building on June 16, 2012.
  • Capt. Trevor Burrell for meritorious service to the Arlington County Fire Department, specifically in the area of firefighter training.
  • Firefighter Joshua Wise for helping to stop a car that was driving erratically on I-395, while off duty. After the car stopped, Wise rendered aid to the driver, who was suffering a diabetic emergency.

The full explanation of each award and act can be found below, after the jump.

“Often, this is the only public recognition these officers receive,” said Chamber of Commerce President Rich Doud said in a statement. “It is unique to hear the stories of their heroic acts and to meet the officers involved. We are fortunate that they work in Arlington and perform so selflessly in the service of our businesses and citizens.”

ABC7 meteorologist Brian Van De Graff served as emcee to the lunchtime event. In addition to police and fire department personnel, attendees included Arlington County Board members, state legislators, elected constitutional officials, school officials and local business leaders.

Donald “DJ” Winsock – Life-saving award

Arlington County Office of Emergency Management

On Tuesday, August 21, 2012, the emergency communications radio manager, Mr. Donald (“DJ”) Winsock was assisting the daylight shift answering emergency and non-emergency calls.  In this case, a female was calling about a woman who had collapsed and was suffering from a seizure.

DJ received the emergency call at 7:39 a.m. And immediately began updating his computer-aided dispatch (cad) screen, sent critical information to dispatch an ambulance to the 1500 block of wilson boulevard, and began giving life-saving pre-arrival instructions.  A 9-1-1 call taker must be able to multi-task; remain calm during an emergency, speak clearly, quickly and accurately, and be able to type critical information into a computer.  There is no room for error as lives are dependent upon the call taker to get it right the first time, just as DJ did.

The original caller did not know CPR and DJ calmly walked her through what to do, simply explaining “you’re going to breathe for her.”  After reassessing the patient, DJ instructed the caller to conduct CPR and began giving life-saving instructions.  Just as the caller was about to begin giving chest compressions, a second person who knew how to do CPR arrived on the scene.  Together they began to administer CPR.  DJ was counting the necessary compressions and telling the person on the scene what to do.  Shortly thereafter, ems responders arrived on the scene and the patient was transported to a nearby hospital.

At 9:26 a.m., the medic unit sent DJ a message stating “patient is stable and in cath lab.  Please relay thanks to emd, wouldn’t have survived without your great work.”

Those who work in 9-1-1 centers are often overlooked for their outstanding efforts.  They rarely have closure in their calls and they never know when they may be called upon to save a life. It is an extremely demanding and stressful job that comes with long hours working night shifts, weekends and holidays.  But often, these unsung heroes save a life and it makes all the hard work they do so rewarding.

SERGEANT JACK LANTZ – MERITORIOUS SERVICE AWARD

Arlington County Office of the Sheriff

Sergeant Jack Lantz began his career with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office on December 5, 1983.  Prior to and during the first few years of his employment, he was a soldier in the United States Army Reserves where he served as a corrections specialist for the military police for six years.  Sergeant Lantz’s career spans so long that a review of his personnel file includes carbon copies of documents.

Sergeant Lantz has worked in or touched almost every aspect of the sheriff’s office.  He began as a deputy in the corrections division, and was then transferred to the transportation section where he escorted inmates to other jails and penitentiaries.  In 1993 he was promoted to the position of deputy sheriff ii.   This was followed by assignments in the warrant process, background and court security sections.  In April of 2000, Deputy Lantz was assigned to the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy as a staff instructor.  For the next three years, he played a vital role in the training and development of hundreds of police officers and deputy sheriffs.

In April of 2003, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and returned to work in the corrections division.  Six years later he was transferred to the warrant process section as their new sergeant.  Sergeant Lantz was specifically selected to bring new leadership and direction to this section that is responsible for serving criminal warrants and civil process and is the most visible in the community.  His efforts continue there today where he has brought new energy and efficiencies as was expected.

In addition to this comprehensive experience, Sergeant Lantz serves as a general and firearms instructor.  He has received numerous letters of commendation and appreciation for his hard work and dedication.  A few examples of that recognition include:

  • Being a goodwill ambassador to Special Olympics
  • Successful state audits of warrants and records systems
  • And responding to and directing resources to a large protest in crystal city

His performance reviews contain comment after comment expressing appreciation for his hard work, dedication, and leadership over his twenty-nine and a half year career with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.

SERGEANT DAVID BOWERS, DSII EFTHIMIOS ALPOS, DSII MONICA LYONS- CARR, and DSII ARTHUR PITTS – LIFE-SAVING AWARD

Arlington County Office of the Sheriff

The booking section of the Arlington County Detention Facility is a high volume section where thousands of people are processed from arrests each year and hundreds of decisions are made every day regarding their status. Responsibilities include the critical and complex legal details regarding each arrestee, preventing illegal contraband from entering the facility and the physical and mental well-being of anyone who is brought into the facility. It is here that the booking deputies work with the arresting officers, magistrate, and mental health and medical staff to properly facilitate each individual arrest.

On November 10, 2012, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) officers arrested and transported a woman from the Ronald Regan National Airport for being drunk in public. The woman was heavily intoxicated and was acting in an unsafe manner. At 1403 hours, the intoxicated arrestee was brought into Arlington County Detention Facility and met by the staff in the booking section.  Deputies Alpos and Lyons-Carr spent a considerable amount of time ensuring every possible detail about her arrest status, her mental and medical health condition and ensured that she was supervised through every step of the process.  The arrestee was very drunk and not being very cooperative. She banged on the door, shouted many derogatory comments to the staff, and refused to follow simple instructions.  The staff continued to assist her through every step of the arrest process.

While waiting in a holding cell for her turn to see the magistrate, the arrestee watched the deputy walk away from her cell and then positioned herself in the corner so she would appear to be using the phone.  She then wrapped the phone cord around her neck and asphyxiated herself.

Shortly afterward, Deputy Alpos observed the arrestee and immediately entered the cell and removed the cord from her neck, then beginning first aid.  Deputies Lyons-Carr and Pitts instantly responded to the scene and assessed the arrestee and discovered that she was not breathing and she did not have a pulse.

The team of deputies began CPR and rescue breathing in efforts to revive her.  Within seconds Sergeant David Bowers arrived and assumed the role of scene commander ensuring that emergency medical services (911) was activated, instructed other staff to get the A.E.D. Machine and that the detention center’s medical staff was notified to respond to the scene.  It was then that Sergeant Bowers noticed one of his staff becoming exhausted from performing CPR and he himself stepped in and took over the CPR process. This first aid action continued for several minutes until the arrestee was resuscitated (a pulse and breathing were present.) Shortly afterward the Arlington County Fire and Rescue Squad arrived and took over rendering medical assistance. The arrestee was transported to the hospital where she survived the incident.

It was clear that if not for the quick actions of these four staff members that the arrestee would not have survived.

SERGEANT RICHARD LAUREANO – LIFE-SAVING AWARD

Arlington County Office of the Sheriff

On February 2, 2013, Sgt. Laureano attended the cardinal district wrestling championship at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge. At approximately 6:40 p.m., while sitting in the stands, he observed a wrestler collapse to his knees and then onto the mat face first. He observed the wrestler appear to shake and have a seizure.

Sergeant Laureano observed the coaches and athletic trainers trying to communicate with the downed wrestler by calling out his name. The wrestler did not respond to the coaches and trainers.  Sergeant Laureano identified himself as an off-duty law enforcement officer to the Prince William County Police officers and the coaches and trainers at the scene.

The athletic trainers started CPR on the young man while Sergeant Laureano took cadence. He was joined by an off-duty nurse who also assisted in providing first aid.  After two rounds of CPR were unsuccessful in reviving the victim, Sergeant Laureano retrieved the AED machine, which was located approximately 50 yards away, and returned to the scene. He and the off-duty nurse applied the AED leads to monitor the victim’s vital signs.

The AED machine advised him to administer a shock to the victim.  Sergeant Laureano advised the bystanders to clear the area and administered an AED shock to the victim. The AED machine then reevaluated the victim’s vital signs. The AED machine advised them to continue CPR.  Approximately 8-10 more rounds of CPR were necessary before the Prince William County Fire Department paramedics arrived on scene and took over life-saving efforts. The paramedics stabilized and transported the young man to a nearby hospital where he was admitted.

It is with great pleasure that we announce that the young man survived the ordeal and should make a full recovery thanks to the life-saving efforts of Sergeant Laureano and other concerned parents and spectators present at the scene.

CAPTAIN KEVIN REARDON – MERITORIOUS SERVICE AWARD

Arlington County Police Department

Captain Kevin Reardon has shown commitment, dedication, and service to the Arlington County Police Department And the citizens of Arlington County for the past 26 years.  Prior to joining acpd, he served with the United States Capitol Police.

Captain Reardon is currently assigned as the Commander of the Homeland Security section for Arlington County Police Department.  Key accomplishments for this assignment include:

  • The department’s improvement in the ability to investigate homeland security by collaborating with the FBI, Pentagon Police, Department Of State, and Homeland Security.  He also works with the Terrorist Screening Center to help improve and enhance their services to state and local agencies.
  • Obtaining equipment for the department by acquiring grants, surplus property programs, participating in decision making groups, and providing equipment recommendations.  As a result, the department has been able to provide officers with new and/or improved equipment which enhances their ability to respond to threats in the county.

Captain Reardon began his service with Arlington County Police Department as an officer of the operations division in 1986; was promoted to corporal of the same division in 1988; moved to detective of the criminal investigations division one year later; and then moved back to the operations division as a sergeant for the evening section.  Between 1995 and 2001 he served as lieutenant of the operations division and criminal investigations division where he worked in special operations, special victims, and narcotics.  In 2002, he became Captain for the criminal division, and the operations division in 2005.  In 2007, he became the Captain of the homeland security section, where he continues to work today.  Additionally, while serving in these positions, Captain Reardon dedicated his time as the commander of the civil disturbance unit, assistant commander on the swat team, and a member of the honor guard unit.

He has received 6 commendation awards spanning the past 11 years for the principles of government service award, the meritorious action award, and the division commanders award.

Captain Reardon has been responsible for numerous projects at both the county and regional level.  Several praiseworthy and successful projects include:

  • The trauma kit project where officers are provided trauma kits to give life-saving care if no help has yet arrived
  • The mobile video trailer project which helps provide real time information amongst officers during special events and major incidents
  • And the license plate reader project, which has received great support and funding and totals almost $8.5 million dollars to date.

Moreover, after attending the incident response and terrorist bombings class at New Mexico Tech, he arranged with the school for supervisors and officers to attend as well.   As a result, almost 50 members of the department have completed the course in New Mexico with no cost to the county.

In addition to this comprehensive experience, Captain Reardon serves his time at several other leadership organizations.  He is the law enforcement representative on the USS Arlington commissioning committee, a trustee on the Arlington Police Beneficiary Association for the past 8 years, and serves as head of the APBA 9/11 Fund that has distributed almost $250,000 to 9/11 related charities.

Captain Reardon is a valued employee who has always gone above and beyond the call of duty.

CORPORAL RICHARD ST. CLAIR and OFFICER PATRICK MAXWELL – VALOR AWARD

Arlington County Police Department

On February 08, 2012, Corporal Richard St. Clair responded to the HOV lanes of interstate 395 just north of Shirlington circle for the report of a car fire.  Upon his arrival, he parked his cruiser in the left lane of northbound interstate 395 in front of several fire department vehicles.  He walked to the north end of the overpass and crossed over to the HOV lanes through a gap between the guard rails. Corporal St. Clair walked over to a vehicle that was no longer on fire but still smoking. He started to walk away from the smoking car when he heard one of the Virginia State Troopers yell that a firefighter/medic had fallen off of the overpass. Corporal St. Clair ran back to the northbound lanes and looked through the gap between the bridges and saw the firefighter laying in the water face up but not moving.

Corporal St. Clair observed the other firefighters rigging up ropes to lower someone to help the fallen firefighter.  One of the Virginia State Troopers asked if there was any other way to get down there.  Corporal St. Clair yelled, “yes,” and ran with the Virginia State Troopers to the northeast corner of the bridge and jumped from the side about six to eight feet to the ground and ran down to the base of the overpass. Corporal St. Clair ran over to where the water is shallow, looked back and noticed firefighters behind him.

Corporal St. Clair routinely checks under this bridge for people so he knows where the water is shallow enough to cross.  Corporal St. Clair showed the firefighters the shallow areas that they could cross and they went ahead of him. Corporal St. Clair then contacted Sergeant Meincke by cellular phone and made him aware of the situation.

He then went into the water and crossed over to the concrete wall on the other side.  Corporal St. Clair began transferring rescue equipment via a rope, lowering it down from the overpass to the firefighters in the water.  Corporal St. Clair then jumped into the water and helped lift the injured medic to a back board, them helped to lift him to the concrete wall on the south side.  He then assisted with moving rescue equipment around and supporting the side of the injured medic while standing in the water with the injured medic at eye level on the concrete wall.  At one point, Corporal St. Clair retrieved a suction pump that was lowered on a rope from the overpass and gave it to the medic who was trying to get a tube down the injured medic’s throat.  The pump was not working. Corporal St. Clair noticed a piece of plastic sticking out from the lid on the pump , and removed it, fixing the pump which he returned to the medic who was now able to use it to assist with getting the tube down the injured medic’s throat.

Once the injured medic was treated, Corporal St. Clair helped lift him into a stokes basket for lifting him up onto the highway.  Corporal St. Clair then worked with the fire fighters to transfer the injured medic across the water to an old concrete platform in the middle of the water.  Their footing was very slippery, so they passed the injured medic in the basket from person to person until he was across the water.  The medics planned to lift him to the highway from this platform.  Corporal St. Clair helped the medics secure lines to the basket holding the injured medic as they lifted him up to the highway. Once the medic was on the highway, Corporal St. Clair assisted with loading the medical equipment to lines that lifted the items up to the highway.  Corporal St. Clair then left the water with the medics and walked back to the highway overpass.

On February 08, 2012, Officer Patrick Maxwell, responded to the same incident.  Upon his arrival, Officer Maxwell observed three firefighters performing CPR on the injured medic on the concrete ledge on the opposite side of the creek.  Officer Maxwell observed corporal St. Clair in the creek assisting the firefighters from the water.  Officer Maxwell entered the creek and made it to the ledge.  Officer Maxwell asked the firefighters if they had a medic on scene, but they did not.  Officer Maxwell began to climb out of the creek when a paramedic arrived.  Officer Maxwell advised him that he was a medic and asked what he could do to help.  The paramedic asked Officer Maxwell to find his drug box for him.  The ledge was too narrow to walk on with everyone on it, so he re-entered the creek and made his way to where their bags were.  The drug box was not among their bags that were there.  Officer Maxwell advised him of this and offered additional assistance.  Another firefighter had begun to cut the injured medic’s clothing off.  Officer Maxwell assisted the best that he could from within the creek.  He continued carrying equipment and bags across the creek, and assisting the paramedic on the scene.  After a while they advised that they were ready to put the injured medic into the stokes basket.  The firefighters lifted him up while a Virginia State Trooper and Officer Maxwell slid the stokes basket under him. They then helped carry him across the creek to the location where he was hoisted up onto interstate 395.

Deputy Chief Daniel Murray also arrived on scene that night and assisted on interstate 395 northbound and in the hov lanes.  Deputy Chief Murray stayed on scene until the injured medic  was successfully loaded in the medic unit and enroute to the hospital.  Deputy Chief Murray was extremely helpful and assisted in pulling up the stokes basket from the creek bed.

Corporal St. Clair and Officer Maxwell demonstrated courageous efforts in an attempt to save the life of a fellow first responder. There are numerous police officers who assisted that evening, in fact too many too mention, however Corporal Richard St. Clair and Officer Patrick Maxwell went beyond what they are normally asked to do on any given day.

CORPORAL DAVID MUNN, OFFICER DANIEL GARDNER, and OFFICER HILARY MALONEY – VALOR WITH LIFE-SAVING AWARD

Arlington County Police Department

On June 16, 2012, at approximately 2051 hours, the emergency communications center dispatched officers to the 18th floor of 1401 South Joyce Street in reference to a suicidal individual who was threatening to jump off the 18th floor balcony.  Corporal Munn, Officer Gardner, and Officer Maloney arrived at the same time.  They located the suicidal individual on the exterior balcony engaged in conversation with his mother.  Corporal Munn asked the individual to come off the balcony to speak with him.  The individual questioned this request, but eventually agreed and began to walk towards Corporal Munn and the interior door.  Corporal Munn attempted to grab the individual’s left hand, at which point, the individual pulled away and took two quick steps towards the balcony.  The individual made it to the ledge with the upper half of his torso hanging over the edge and actively attempting to climb over.  This ledge was eighteen floors above the ground.

An immediate struggle ensued with Corporal Munn, Officer Maloney and Officer Gardner actively attempting to pull the individual back onto the balcony and take him into custody.  Further complicating the situation, the individual’s mother and father were also actively attempting to pull the individual back.  The individual was physically fit making taking him into custody difficult.  Officer Maloney removed the cartridge from her taser and applied one short-drive stun to the individual’s rear-side lower torso.  This taser application provided the needed pain compliance to take the individual into custody without further incident.

The individual’s parents later explained that their son is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He had some relationship issues and spent most of that day telephoning friends and family to tell them “goodbye” as he was planning to take his own life.

CAPTAIN TREVOR BURRELLMERITORIOUS SERVICE AWARD

Arlington County Fire Department

Captain Trevor Burrell leads the Fire and EMS Training Committee of Arlington County.  He has led the Fire Training Academy over the course of three recruit schools.

One of his first projects for the recruit school was to lead the clean up and revitalization of the academy prior to the start of recruit school 67.  As a mentor for the students, Captain Burrell created a professional atmosphere that promoted safety, education, and production while also creating an enjoyable program.  Additionally, he challenged and supported staff members of the academy by encouraging creativity.  His leadership resulted in an interactive and engaging training program for recruits.  To guarantee Arlington County had the most prestigious fire department, Captain Burrell helped modify the grading and testing procedure to create the highest possible standards for the recruits.

Captain Burrell is also a great example of successful multitasking.  At the beginning of 2012, he managed a seamless transition into the captain ii position while the recruit school 69 was also in session.  Moreover, he successfully reinvigorated the trimester training program while holding additional training sessions for other recruits.

He is proactive in ensuring Arlington County’s Fire Department has the best and most efficient staff and system by helping to develop new standard operating procedures and developing new training manuals.  Captain Burrell has developed a streamlined training schedule that enables crews to obtain specific hands-on training at acquired structures.

Captain Burrell is an exemplary leader, officer, and firefighter.  His commendable efforts led three outstanding classes of recruits into confident and prepared firefighters through the exceptional training they received.  His dedication to his work is admirable.

FIREFIGHTER JOSHUA WISE – LIVE-SAVING AWARD

Arlington County Fire Department

On November 23, 2012, Firefighter Joshua Wise was off duty with his wife and son traveling southbound in his personal vehicle on interstate 395.  At approximately 1600 hours between route 7 and the seminary road exit, firefighter wise noticed a car driving erratically, sideswiping the interstate wall barriers.  Firefighter Wise weaved his vehicle in between cars to gain a better vantage point.

Firefighter Wise observed what he appeared to be a child driving the car from the back seat.  In heavy traffic and without hesitation, he pulled his truck in front of the out-of-control car, and asked his wife to call 911 from her cellular phone.  Once in front of the distressed car, firefighter wise positioned and slowed his POV in order to stop the vehicle.  Once this was done, he used his Firefighter /EMT skills and mechanical expertise to quickly assess the scene.  He disabled and secured the car, then performed a head to toe basic assessment of the driver.  He managed to calm the entire family that was in the car. Firefighter wise was able to use the victim’s glucose meter to check his blood sugar levels, and found he was having a diabetic problem.  Firefighter Wise administered oral sugar fluids to help stabilize the patient until the arrival and assistance of both the Virginia State Police and the Alexandria Fire Department.

In keeping with the highest traditions of the Arlington County Fire Department, Firefighter Wise, while off duty, took control of a chaotic event, averted a possible family holiday disaster, and took a calculated risk to save others.

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Morning Notes

A man reading in a park on a spring day

Memorial Bridge in Need of Renovations — The 81-year-old Arlington Memorial Bridge, which was once a functioning drawbridge, is in urgent need of repairs. The repairs could cost as much as $250 million and close the span for three months. [Washington Post]

Free Stuff on Tax Day — Among other Tax Day offers around town today, April 15,  California Tortilla is offering free chips and queso to anyone who comes in and uses the secret code “1040.” The restaurant has locations in Courthouse and Crystal City. If you’ve procrastinated and need some free tax advice, check out our three Q&A sessions with local tax pro Bobby Grohs.

Recognizing Arlington’s ECC Staff — Arlington County is recognizing National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, which runs April 14-20, and lauding the work of the county’s Emergency Communications Center staff — the men and women you talk to when you dial 911. “We commend these professionals on their tireless efforts to support emergency responders and to provide critical services to the citizens of our nation,” the county said in a press release. [Arlington County]

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911 Texting Capability Still on Hold in Arlington

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.

Arlington County Emergency Communications CenterPerhaps 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.”

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