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Drone seen flying near former Key Bridge Marriott (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Drones could soon figure into the future of public safety in Arlington.

Arlington’s police and fire departments, the Sheriff’s Office and the Dept. of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management are developing a joint program to use drones when responding to public safety and emergency incidents.

Now through New Year’s Day, people can comment on their draft policies regulating the training, operations and oversight of the “Unmanned Aircraft Systems program,” or UAS.

“All comments provided will be reviewed and evaluated for incorporation into the policies,” a county press release says. “Implementation of the program is anticipated in early 2024 following the completion, review, and incorporation of community feedback on the draft policies.”

Law enforcement could use drones for situational awareness: for instance, one was seen during the large public safety agency presence at the Key Bridge Marriott when it was condemned. Drones could also help collect evidence, conduct search and rescue operations and monitor public events.

The county has posted draft policies for ACPD, ACFD and the Dept. of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management online for people to review. Much of the language is the same across all three policies.

More on the purpose of the program, from ACPD’s policy:

The UAS program shall be used only to support the missions of participating agencies and for legitimate purposes such as situational awareness of public safety incidents, search and rescue operations, and evidence collection, in accordance with applicable state and federal laws and regulations.

These drones will not be equipped with weapons. Only those assigned to the program, with proper training, can operate them, in accordance with the Fourth Amendment — which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures — and other applicable laws.

If approved, there would be monthly audits reviewing the number and length of flights, their efficacy, any safety or equipment concerns and potential violations of policy or law, the policy says.

ACPD will let the public know about all pre-planned drone deployments and it will publish an annual report with the total number of flights, the time, date, location of and reason for each flight. Exceptions would be made when this information would jeopardize personnel safety or a criminal investigation.

These aircraft could help these agencies work more efficiently and safely with fewer staff. ACPD, for instance, has had to scale back services amid ongoing challenges with recruiting and retaining officers.

Improved officer safety could, in turn, bolster staffing levels, Arlington’s police and fire chiefs said earlier this year, in a preliminary discussion with the Arlington County Board about drones.

More from a press release:

The draft policies were developed after an extensive review of model policies and recommendations by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and policies of police departments across the country with established UAS programs. The goal is to create model policies for Arlington County, utilizing established best practices while ensuring compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. […]

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Background
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) provide enhanced operational capability, safety, and situational awareness for first responders in support of public safety. The UAS Program will only be utilized for specific public safety missions and will be operated only by trained and authorized personnel in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. For additional information on the UAS program, including answers to frequently asked questions, visit our website.

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Participants learning how to stop bleeding in “Until Help Arrives” before the pandemic (via Arlington County)

Want to learn how to handle a life-threatening situation?

The Arlington Community Response Team plans to offer free emergency response training sessions over the next several months for those who live, work, or volunteer in Arlington. It’s part of the national “Until Help Arrives” program to teach the public how to help during emergencies, from car accidents to active shooter situations.

Locals can sign up for two courses, including a 3.5-hour full emergency response training course or a 2-hour hands-on course.

According to the county website, course graduates learn the following life-saving skills:

  • Maintaining situational awareness
  • Identifying key life threats
  • Stopping bleeding
  • Moving and positioning the injured
  • Providing psychological support and comfort to the wounded
  • Relaying essential information to 9-1-1

The full course, which includes “classroom instruction and hands-on practice of live-saving skills,” will be offered on Wednesday, Nov. 29, from 5:30-8:45 p.m. at Arlington Mill Community Center.

Residents are not required to do any preparation work in advance. Certificates will be presented following the completion of the course.

People can also register for a 2-hour hands-on course, in which they just learn hands-on techniques, such as how to use a tourniquet and stop bleeding.

This option requires participants to take an online course in lieu of a classroom session.

The 2-hour course is offered once this month and once in October:

  • Thursday, Aug. 31, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Walter Reed Community Center
  • Thursday, Oct. 19, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Walter Reed Community Center

Online registration is available for both the 3.5-hour and the 2-hour classes.

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Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center in 2013 (file photo)

Arlington County will soon start using an automated system developed by Amazon Web Services to answer non-emergency public safety calls.

Starting on Thursday (June 1), non-emergency callers to 703-558-2222 will go through Amazon Connect to address their issues, according to the county.

“Amazon Connect is a cloud-based contact center service that allows residents to connect with the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) for non-emergency inquiries,” says an FAQ on the county website. “When a caller dials (703) 558-2222 for non-emergency needs, Amazon Connect will answer the call and provide verbal assistance. It will provide a faster and more efficient response to non-emergency inquiries. Alternate languages will be built out in the future.”

“Personal information is not stored or shared with Amazon or the County,” the FAQ adds. “Amazon Connect is only for non-emergency calls like car towing inquiries, animal control needs, or noise complaints. For emergencies, always call 9-1-1.”

Additional capabilities, including the ability to speak languages other than English and artificial intelligence-driven functionality to address certain inquiries, are in the works, the county said.

In September 2021, WTOP reported that Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center was experiencing staffing shortages and “addressing concerns that its current setup is problematic and even potentially dangerous.”

More, below, from an Arlington County press release.

The Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) will launch Amazon Connect to handle non-emergency calls starting June 1, 2023. This cloud-based service allows anyone to contact the County quickly and easily for non-emergency issues using the non-emergency line, 703-558-2222, freeing up 9-1-1 professionals to focus on emergencies.

Amazon Connect is a secure and accessible service that allows the ECC to address non-emergency calls more efficiently while protecting caller privacy. The technology will streamline operations, improve service delivery, and reduce the burden on emergency responders.

“We are excited to continue to lead the region in implementing responsive and industry best-practice emergency communications technology,” said William Flagler, Director of the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. “The use of Amazon Connect for non-emergency calls will allow our emergency communications staff to focus on emergencies while providing residents with faster, more efficient, and secure service for non-emergency inquiries.”

Amazon Connect is only for non-emergency calls; the current 9-1-1 system will continue to handle emergency calls.

When a caller dials 703-558-2222 (the non-emergency line), Amazon Connect will answer and provide verbal assistance. The system can answer calls and speak to the caller to provide verbal direction, providing a faster and more efficient response to non-emergency inquiries.  No personal information is stored or shared with Amazon.

In the future, the County plans to expand the system’s capabilities using artificial intelligence. The system will learn to identify and effectively address reasons for calling (e.g. towed cars, potholes, trail and park maintenance, noise complaints, County operating status), and will offer service in the County’s top five most spoken languages. The County also plans to connect the system to its online reporting form and update residents on resolving non-emergency issues they share.

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On Aug. 12, 2022, Arlington police officers were among the first to respond to the  devastating crash and fire at Ireland’s Four Courts.

Three ACPD personnel — Officer Whisner, Corporal O’Daniel and Corporal Playford — were just recognized for their heroism.

“Without hesitation, the officers entered the building, assisted with removing patrons, carried the injured to safety and provided emergency medical assistance,” Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow.

Whisner has served with the department for 2.5 years and Playford for 5 years, while O’Daniel has more than 24 years of law enforcement experience in Arlington, across the Sheriff’s Office and police department. They were honored for their bravery, for saving the lives of four critically injured patients and for preventing additional injuries during an annual Arlington County Fire Department award ceremony on Sunday.

“Your prompt response, quick decision-making, and selfless act of courage undoubtedly made a meaningful difference during this complex incident,” Arlington County Fire Chief David Povlitz told the officers, reading from a letter of commendation later provided to ARLnow.

“The collaboration between our departments was seamless, and your efforts in evacuating the building and removing patients were essential to the rescue operations,” he continued.

Firefighters on-scene were also lauded for evacuating the building, triaging patients, quickly extinguishing the raging fire, treating patients on-scene and transporting patients with life-threatening injuries to trauma centers, ACFD spokesman Capt. Nate Hiner tells ARLnow.

“Seamless collaboration with ACPD played a significant role in saving the lives of the critically injured patients and preventing additional injuries,” Hiner said.

The pub-goers who suffered the most serious, potentially life-threatening injuries were released from the hospital after about a month. The Uber driver who slammed into the pub, after an apparent medical emergency, did not face criminal charges.

Four Courts, meanwhile, expects to reopen in August, after about a year of insurance claims, permitting, demolition and construction.

The units who responded to the crash and fire were not the only first responders honored last week for saving lives. Last summer, there were two other rescues for which fire crews received accolades.

On June 25, 2022, Hiner said, 10 units responded to a “challenging trench rescue incident” in which a worker was trapped up to his shoulders in heavy clay in a collapsed trench at the rear of a house near Wakefield High School.

“The worker was in distress and having trouble breathing,” Hiner said. “Personnel collaborated to develop patient care and extrication plans, which they efficiently executed despite the difficult conditions and extreme heat. Crews worked for 75 minutes to safely remove the patient from the trench while providing ongoing medical care.”

Once the man was freed from the clay, he was rushed to the hospital and later discharged, making a full recovery.

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A 911 dispatcher in Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center in 2010 (staff photo)

Update at 2:30 p.m. — The issues have been resolved, Arlington County authorities say. Alexandria also experienced the same problems.

Earlier: Arlington County “is experiencing technical difficulties with calls placed to 9-1-1,” according to an Arlington Alert notification.

“Please report emergencies by texting to 9-1-1,” the county urged, or “place calls to the Arlington County non-emergency number (703-558-2222) for emergencies situations.”

“More information will be provided as soon as possible,” said the alert.

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A view of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics & Fitness Center (courtesy of Susan Kalish/Parks Department)

The Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center closed early yesterday (Thursday) due to an electrical emergency.

“At approximately noon on Thursday, the incoming voltage to the building began spiking beyond what was safe for our equipment,” Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow.

DPR closed the facility so that power could be shut down, and Dominion Energy responded yesterday afternoon to make repairs.

“The spiking stopped and contractors replaced or repaired damaged equipment,” she said. “We are happy to report the community could dive in once again by 8 a.m.”

Typically, the center opens at 5 a.m. on Friday for early risers to get in their morning swims and dives.

Members were notified of the closure “due to emergency maintenance” in an email time-stamped at 12:55 p.m., according to a copy shared with ARLnow.

This is the first reported emergency repair resulting in the temporary closure of the Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center since it opened in August of last year.

The facility will next be closed on Sunday, April 17 for Easter Sunday.

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Arlington County firefighters rescue a window washer dangling in a safety harness in the 1500 block of Wilson Blvd last year (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Arlington firefighters union says the county’s proposed 2022-23 budget underfunds the fire department and puts residents in unnecessary danger, but county officials dispute the characterization.

The union wants the budget to support having someone with Advanced Life Support training on each fire department vehicle, something that county officials say is not necessary. ALS providers are certified to treat critically ill patients with life-saving drugs or intravenous medicines, among other training that goes beyond basic emergency medical care, also called Basic Life Support.

Currently, Arlington has a mix of ALS and BLS medic units on duty at any given time.

The budget also does not include premium pay for the Swift Water Rescue Team to reflect the riskier work they do, while wages have stagnated for rank-and-file members, according to the union.

IAFF 2800, which represents more than 300 firefighters, proposes adding $8.5 million to the 2022-23 budget to address these issues.

Budgeting decisions regarding wages “have led to diminished emergency services at the risk of potential harm to the citizens, businesses and visitors of Arlington,” the union said in a letter to the Arlington County Board and County Manager Mark Schwartz. “It is with this in mind that we bring these issues to the forefront before it escalates to a point that causes unnecessary harm to the community we serve.”

The $8.5 million would provide a 7% raise to keep up with inflation, make firefighters whole for missed pay increases since 2018, provide premium pay for responders who took on more work due to labor shortages, and increase compensation for the Swift Water Rescue Team, IAFF says.

County Manager Mark Schwartz says the union’s account is inaccurate and the county has not been cutting costs.

“All County residents should know that there is no ‘unnecessarily hazardous situation’ and that each resident can rely on a strong and well-trained workforce to respond to their needs,” he said in response.

Specifically, ACFD has stepped up its medical care without “over-resourcing” every call through mobile diagnoses, on-site treatments and new technologies that give patients more options, he said, adding that “not every patient needs an Advanced Life Support provider.”

Schwartz says the Swift Water Rescue Team does not receive premium pay, but he is committed to adding compensation for the team in addition to funding that addresses stagnant wages.

Employee compensation is the chief focus of the 2022-23 budget, which is currently being hammered out. Schwartz proposes 6.5% salary increases for public safety employees and a $2.2 million increase for the fire department over the 2022 budget, according to a recent presentation.

The summary of the 2022-23 budget for the fire department (via Arlington County)

Among other changes, the increase would fund the implementation of the Kelly Day, which will reduce each firefighter’s average work week from 56 to 50 hours, improving work-life balance and reducing attrition, the county says. The county hired nearly 40 additional firefighters over four years to instate the Kelly Day.

Today, the department is close to full staffing and is experiencing vacancies comparable to Arlington’s historical average, Schwartz said. ACFD loses about two employees a month, and there are currently 15 uniform vacancies.

“I hope that the historic investments we have made over the past four years in a reduced work week and exemplary practices will continue to attract the best staff in the nation,” he said.

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This weekend, locals can stock up on virtually everything needed to batten down the hatches in the event of a natural disaster, or to go back to school, without paying Virginia sales tax.

Hurricane season, which will last through Nov. 30, is about to reach its peak, with 15-21 tropical systems potentially forming this year. People can get a host of hurricane readiness products sales tax-free through Sunday.

The tax exemption is part of Virginia’s Sales Tax Holiday, when folks can buy certain emergency and school supplies, as well as energy-saving devices, sales tax-free. The holiday started this morning (Friday) and will last until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. People can save between 3.5-7% this weekend, according to a video about the holiday produced last year.

In addition to hurricanes, over the years, Arlingtonians have had to be prepared for massive floods, hurricanes, earthquakes big and small, and even tornadoes, as well as the local power outages caused by high winds and rainstorms over the last year.

The list of hurricane-preparedness essentials includes some larger items, if they’re less than $1,000:

  • Portable generators and generator power cords
  • Inverters and inverter power cables
  • Photovoltaic devices that generate electricity

Gas-powered chain saws qualify if they’re less than $350, and chain saw accessories less than $60 are also exempt.

The list includes smaller items useful for most emergencies:

  • First aid kits
  • Storm shutter devices
  • Batteries and chargers for cell phones and all batteries except those for cars and boats
  • Portable, battery-operated or self-powered radios and light sources
  • Tarps
  • Bungee cords and rope
  • Tie down kits
  • Duct tape
  • Gas or diesel fuel tanks
  • Ice packs and reusable ice
  • Water storage containers
  • Non-electric food storage coolers
  • Bottled water
  • Manual can openers

Other home safety products include:

  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Smoke detectors
  • Fire extinguishers

Qualifying school supplies must cost $20 or less per item and qualified clothing and footwear must cost less than $100.

With back to school around the corner, folks can buy anything from scissors, tape and glue to socks, shoes and uniforms, as well as hand sanitizing soap and disinfecting wipes. Other cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, such as masks, however, are exempt.

Energy Star or WaterSense products, such as toilets, faucets and refrigerators, are eligible of they cost less than $2,500 per item and are purchased for noncommercial home or personal use only.

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(Updated 4/5/21) The Arlington Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) will be teaching people how to respond to life-threatening situations until help arrives.

Over the course of a free, 2.5-hour class, anyone who lives, works or volunteers in Arlington can learn skills such as how to stop severe bleeding and provide psychological first aid. The class, “Until Help Arrives,” is part of a national campaign to teach the public how to help during emergencies from car accidents to active shooter situations.

The next hands-on training course is Saturday, April 10 from 10 a.m.-noon at 1429 N. Quincy Street, a site the county had used for drive-thru and mobile COVID-19 testing. The next virtual training will be on Apr. 29 from 6:30-9 p.m.

There has been an uptick in interest during the pandemic, said Lucía Cortés, Engagement Liaison for the Arlington County Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. That’s not to mention the recent spate of mass shootings in the United States.

“We’ve actually seen a significant increase in class interest over the past seven months, with enrollment increasing by 100% while increasing our class frequency to at least once per month,” Cortés said. “Over 160 people have attended our virtual trainings.”

Attendees will learn how to recognize violent activities, respond safely, provide immediate rescue tactics to the injured, and report them to 9-1-1, according to the county.

According to Until Help Arrives, the program emphasizes five steps for civilians to take during an emergency while waiting for medical assistance:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Protect the injured from harm
  3. Stop any bleeding
  4. Position the victim so they can breathe
  5. Provide comfort

“The County’s CERT program was created in the wake of 9/11 by concerned residents wanting to assist their communities during emergencies,” Cortés said. “Since 2004, nearly 1,000 community members have completed ArlCERT training.”

CERT asks that interested people register to receive a link to the virtual event. Once registered, class attendees are asked to download the training materials and watch a prerequisite video.

Photo via Arlington County

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As early as mid-spring, light poles along Wilson Blvd in Clarendon will be outfitted with new fixtures that monitor crowds and identify potential emergencies.

The technology will be installed sometime this spring as part of a pilot project involving multiple Arlington County departments as well as Comcast, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and US Ignite — a nonprofit focused on community innovation. The initiative is dubbed the “Safety and Innovation Zone demonstration project.”

During its recessed meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board voted 4-1, with Takis Karantonis dissenting, in favor of the pilot project. US Ignite is donating $90,000 to buy the light fixtures, which Comcast will provide, along with a three-month trial of public Wi-Fi in the area.

Karantonis said his vote should not be interpreted as a vote of no-confidence, but rather, it should signal that he is still skeptical and would like to see more public engagement.

The primary use for the fixtures, to be installed along the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, will be “people counting,” said Holly Hartell, who presented the project on behalf of the Department of Technology Services. In other words, the light fixtures will monitor crowd sizes and flow to recognize unexpected movements that could indicate a potential threat or emergency situation.

“This is an effort to speed things up where seconds and minutes count,” said Arlington County Fire Chief David Povlitz. “If we could gain information to send the right resource to the right place in a timely fashion that could really accelerate us operationally and also safety-wise.”

The light fixtures do not have the capacity to videotape people, capture images or provide identifying information, Hartell said. They can pick up the presence or absence of an event they have been programmed to detect, such as a large crowd moving quickly. This data will be converted into text and sent to a dashboard in the county’s Emergency Communications Center.

“Everything will be anonymous,” Hartell said. “You will never be able to identify an individual person.”

Later on, the technology could be used to detect falls, blasts, shots, and distress cries, as well as sudden temperature changes or the presence of smoke.

The fire chief added that “this [pilot] is just a start and we hope to be able to build this out in the county in time.”

“We are aware of people who are concerned,” Hartell later told ARLnow, of questions raised about the project. “I understand their concerns, and I want to give them the confidence that what we’re looking at is not going to be in any way impacting their privacy.”

The partners in the project — CCI, US Ignite and Comcast — are all providing best practices on collecting data while respecting privacy, she said. The county has also developed a privacy framework to use as it goes about the project.

“We are protecting people’s privacy while improving our services,” she said.

The pilot project will be in place for about one year. The first few months will be spent refining the uses for the technology, followed by six months of data collection, and finally, an assessment period. Next spring, the county will decide if the project could be replicated elsewhere. At that time, there will be robust public engagement opportunities, Hartell said.

During the meeting, Hartell said the block was chosen because it has a vibrant business district and a “pretty active restaurant and pedestrian activity,” even now during the pandemic.

One incident the technology might have caught in that location, had it been in place a few years ago: the famous 2018 Cheesecake Factory incident, when a promotion for free cheesecake got out of control

The original proposal was to focus on social distancing and mask-wearing, according to the staff report. A small number of business members of the Clarendon Alliance were consulted on the idea, and their concern led to a shift away from coronavirus measures, staff said.

Photo 1 via Google Maps, photos 2-3 via Arlington County

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) While sitting a safe distance away from each other, members of the Arlington County Board voted 4-0 to approve a declaration of local emergency this morning, amid the coronavirus outbreak.

County Manager Mark Schwartz signed the declaration of emergency at 7 p.m. Friday. He said the declaration will allow the county to more easily obtain state and federal funds, acquire needed goods and services, and hire staff as needed.

The county will continue to provide essential services, including emergency services, maintenance, and even permitting during the outbreak, Schwartz said. There will be more changes put in place soon, however.

“We know that these new measures are an inconvenience, but we believe that these changes to county government are Arlington’s best chance of slowing this virus,” said County Board member Katie Cristol.

Arlington is continuing to encourage residents to practice social distancing — avoiding crowds and staying at least six feet apart from each other to prevent the spread of disease — County Board members said in a pre-recorded video, played at the Board’s special meeting Saturday morning.

As of Friday afternoon, all Dept. of Parks and Recreation programs were cancelled. All libraries are closed this weekend, though Central Library and the Columbia Pike branch library plan to reopen on Monday, while others remain closed. Schools are now closed through mid-April.

Schwartz said on Monday a new list of hours and operational changes for county facilities will be posted on the county’s website.

“I hope everyone pays attention to the social distancing, washes your hands, wipes down surfaces — this is going to be with us for awhile,” Garvey said, wrapping up the brief meeting. “Your local government has been working flat out for weeks now. We’re going to continue to do so. Please be safe and gentle with each other.”

At last count, there were five confirmed cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Arlington.

Large crowds of shoppers and empty shelves, meanwhile, continue to be reported at stores in Arlington.

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