Did you know that during Hurricane Katrina, only 3% of New Orleans pets left behind were reunited with their families? That’s 3,100 out of 104,000 pets. While another 12,400 were rescued, they never found their owners.
We’ve been lucky in this area not to have had a Hurricane Katrina, but if you’re plan is to “figure it out,” there’s no time like the present! June is National Pet Preparedness Month, and below are some simples steps you can take to prepare your pet for an emergency.
If you’d like to learn more in person, come to Gateway Park, 1300 Lee Highway, Friday night (June 10) at 5 p.m. for a family and pet-friendly Pet Preparedness Festival prior to the Rosslyn Cinema’s showing of Beethoven 2. Learn pet preparedness tips, pick up pet-related giveaways from vendors, and enjoy free festivities, including a story time with the Arlington Public Library, climbing wall, face painting, balloon animal art, music, and prizes, as well as a beer and wine at a mobile bar, and snacks from the Chix N’Stix food truck.
- ID Your Pet
Make sure you pet has up-to-date ID tags with his/her and your name and contact information on her at all time so you can be reached if your pet is found. Include any urgent medical needs on her tag.
Microchip your pet; it is the only permanent way to identify your pet and link it back to you. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington hosts Microchipping Clinics nearly every month for $30. Be sure to register your pet once it is microchipped!
- Plan an Escape
If it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pet, so have a plan ready to take your pet with you if you have to leave during an emergency. Know where you will go and how you will get there.
- Ask friends and relatives outside of the immediate area if you and your pet can evacuate there.
- Contact your vet for a list of recommended boarding kennels.
- Know which hotels accept pets, and call ahead to see if they have breed/size restrictions.
While pet-friendly shelters may be available, they can be extremely stressful for animals, and should be used as your last resort.
- Designate a Buddy
While we hope we will be together with our loved ones when an emergency occurs, it is most likely that you will be at work, school, the gym, at dinner, etc.
Ask a neighbor or nearby friend to care for your pet if you are unable to return to your home due to an emergency. Consider someone you trust who is often home when you are out.
Be sure they have a key to your home, are prepared to evacuate with your pet (A big ask? Yes! Is your pet worth it? Absolutely!), and show them where you keep your pet’s go-bag. Set location to reconnect with them once you are safely able to evacuate.
- Make a Kit
Make sure you have enough supplies on hand for your pet for 3-7 days. Develop a grab-bag for your pet, and keep it near the door. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the bag is located.
Include the following items:
- Food/Water – 3 day supply + dishes
- Medicine w/directions – 2 week supply
- Collar/harness & leash
- Litter Tray (aluminum roasting pan works great!)
- Litter or paper towels
- Garbage bags for clean-up
- Pet carrier w/bedding
- Keep in waterproof container:
- Vet Records, including vaccinations
- Registration or proof of ownership
- Microchip information
- Recent picture of your pet
- Contact information for you, your veterinarian, your pet buddy, and any other important contacts
- Extra toys/treats
- Be Aware
Get notified when emergency, weather and traffic conditions are poor. Register for ArlingtonAlert.com to receive free alerts as well other important information during an emergency via text, voice or email.
Want to learn more? Come join us Friday at Gateway Park for the Pet Preparedness Festival! Or visit PreparedPets.com.
The preceding post was written and promoted by Arlington County’s Office of Emergency Management.
Plane Makes Emergency Landing at DCA — An American Airlines flight taking off from Reagan National Airport had to turn around and make an emergency landing after a bird struck and disabled one of its engines. The incident happened around noon on Tuesday. No one was hurt. [NBC Washington]
That’s a Lot of Parking Tickets — Arlington County issued some 109,000 parking citations last year. The two most ticketed spots in the county: the county-owned surface parking lot in Courthouse and the county-owned parking strip next to Northside Social. [WJLA]
Vihstadt Pens Statement of Support for Garvey — County Board member John Vihstadt (I) writes of Board chair Libby Garvey, who’s facing a challenge in the Democratic primary: “While we don’t agree on everything, she continues to be my ally on key priorities like championing open, accessible and transparent County government, adequate schools funding, robust transit solutions on the Pike and elsewhere, and streamlining our business processes.” [Libby Garvey]
GGW Endorses Gutshall — Urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Erik Gutshall, who’s challenging County Board chair Libby Garvey in the June 14 Democratic primary. Writes GGW: “Overall, Gutshall has demonstrated a strong grasp of the challenges facing Arlington and an ability to work with others to find solutions. Libby Garvey, his opponent, has not demonstrated these qualities.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Paving on Columbia Pike — Crews are repaving the westbound lanes of Columbia Pike between S. Glebe Road and S. George Mason Drive, through Friday. [Twitter]
Raising Funds to Help Baby Hear — An Arlington resident has launched an online fundraiser to help pay for travel expenses and medical expenses associated with his baby daughter’s participation in a clinical trial that will help her hear via an auditory brainstem implant. [GoFundMe]
Water Meter Replacement Nearly Complete — An effort to replace outdated water meters in Arlington with more modern meter technology is nearly complete. The project, which began in 2007, is now 98 percent complete and is expected to wrap up by the end of the year. [InsideNova]
Emergency Preparedness Month — September is Emergency Preparedness Month in Arlington. This year’s theme, which is also the theme of National Preparedness Month: “Don’t Wait, Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today.” [Arlington County]
Donations Sought for Funeral — Residents in the Barcroft neighborhood are raising money following the passing of a beloved neighbor. Abuelita Pacheco was “a ‘grandmother’ to many of the neighborhood kids… a lady full of joy and resilience, always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed it.” Now, funds are being raised to cover the cost of a funeral and burial in Pacheco’s native Colombia. Her family is already facing financial hardship: Pacheco was grandmother to five, include three blind triplets. [Crowdrise]
Arlington Neighborhood College Enrollment — Applications for Arlington County’s Neighborhood College program are due Sept. 10. The program “provides the knowledge and skills necessary for residents from across the County to get involved in local issues that affect their day-to-day lives and the lives of their neighbors.” [Arlington County]
Metro Delays This Morning — There were delays on the Orange, Silver and Blue lines during the latter part of the AM rush hour this morning, due to “police activity” at the L’Enfant Plaza station in D.C. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Virginia Hospital Center refused to admit the potential Ebola patient from the Pentagon on Friday, according to county officials, despite the hospital saying two weeks earlier that it was ready to handle such patients.
Responding to an inquiry from ARLnow.com today, the Arlington County Fire Department confirmed reports that VHC refused the woman — who at the time was thought to potentially have the deadly Ebola virus — when medics brought her to the hospital. She never left the ambulance.
“We were turned away,” said ACFD spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani. “We followed our protocol and brought the patient to the closest hospital (VHC), at which point we were rerouted to Fairfax Inova.”
VHC has not responded to multiple requests for comment from ARLnow.com. Marchegiani said the hospital claimed not to be prepared for such a patient, even though the department had previously been told VHC could accept suspected Ebola patients.
“The reason told to our medical director was that they couldn’t handle the patient,” said Marchegiani. Earlier this month, however, VHC told TV station WUSA 9 that it was ready to deal with potential Ebola patients.
“Virginia Hospital Center wants to reassure our community that the Hospital has the infrastructure and procedures already in place to screen, and if necessary, isolate, test and treat all high-risk patients. We drill and prepare for just such situations; therefore, our staff is highly trained to take appropriate precautions for a suspected and/or confirmed Ebola case.
A multi-disciplinary taskforce has reviewed our infection control guidelines and reinforced education of the Hospital staff to ensure it can detect a patient with Ebola Virus Disease, protect all healthcare workers so they can safely care for the patient, and respond to the patient in a timely manner.”
An ARLnow.com tipster indicates emergency responders called the VHC emergency room from the scene at the Pentagon, and were told to bring the patient over. The tipster claims hospital administration refused to allow the patient inside once she arrived at the hospital. The person tells ARLnow.com there was a “heated exchange” between the emergency physician and hospital administration inside the emergency room while the patient waited in the ambulance. The tipster also claims hospital administration worried it would lose business if it came to be seen as an “Ebola hospital.”
The county’s emergency officials reportedly have had talks with officials at VHC since the incident. ACFD confirms VHC has agreed to accept potential Ebola patients in the future.
Arlington County officials also have confirmed that the patient had not traveled to West Africa, as she allegedly first told authorities. In fact, she had not left the country at all, the county said, and had no contact with other potentially infected people.
“She had stated that she had traveled to Sierra Leone at the scene and did exhibit symptoms consistent with Ebola, so responders took all appropriate steps,” said Diana Sun, Arlington County’s Director of Communications. “There was an investigative process that went beyond Arlington. During the course of this, people close to the patient were interviewed and stated that she had not left the country. The patient herself, later in the afternoon, recanted her story and said that she had not left the country. When that last piece came in, public health officials felt confident in not pursuing” further testing for the Ebola virus.
There’s no word yet on whether the woman will face any charges.
Four Arlington emergency responders were honored with Crisis Intervention Team awards earlier this month for handling emergencies with mentally ill patients.
Arlington County Police Officer James Joy was named Officer of the Year, Deputy Jeffrey Nowak was named Deputy of the Year, Officer Samuel Sentz was honored with the Intervention of the Year and Emergency Communications Technician Shanika Stewart was named Dispatcher of the Year.
Joy was recognized for three incidents as examples of his work responding with compassion and responsibility for patients struggling with mental illness. In one of those cases last April, Joy responded to a call for trespassing and, upon finding out the suspect was a military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and going through a divorce, Joy contacted the Wounded Warrior Project, which helped the veteran get the proper care.
Nowak was honored for responding to a December crisis in the Arlington County Detention Center in which an “actively psychotic and delusional” inmate started banging his head against his cell wall. Nowak, according to the Office of Emergency Management, diffused the situation by relying on his past relationship with the inmate. Nowak remembered the inmate had heard voices in the past, and spoke is short, simple sentences so his message could get through.
Sentz responded to a call in December at the Marriott Residence Inn in Crystal City during which a soldier “was intoxicated, creating a disturbance and trespassing at the hotel,” according to OEM. Sentz responded not by sending the soldier to the “drunk tank,” but by getting him medical assistance. In a letter to the OEM, Director of the U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency Col. Carl M. Johnson credited Sentz with “saving the soldier’s life.”
The awards ceremony was held April 2 at Virginia Hospital Center.
Photos courtesy Arlington County
The National Weather Service has placed Arlington under a Winter Storm Warning, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has declared a state of emergency and the latest weather models from the Capital Weather Gang predicts 5-10 inches of snow for the immediate D.C. region by the end of the day Thursday, with 4-8 inches falling by 7:00 a.m.
WMATA has already announced that late-night bus service — after 1:00 a.m. — tonight has been cancelled and MetroAccess service for the disabled has been suspended tomorrow.
The county’s transit agencies, ART and STAR, will “continue to provide normal scheduled services as conditions permit.” The agencies will update their websites and send out alerts if and when service needs to be reduced or suspended.
County and state crews are already pre-treating the roads as predictions come in for not only heavy snow, but sleet and freezing rain in the morning on Thursday.
“The County’s snow crews and Office of Emergency Management are gearing up, and residents and businesses should, too,” Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in a press release. “If you don’t have to drive during this storm, which is expected to be the most significant we’ve had this winter, please stay off the roads and let crews do their work. Check on neighbors who are housebound.”
The county is asking residents to move their cars off the street where possible, or to “coordinate with your neighbors and/or civic association to move all cars to one side of the street,” since plows need 15 feet to plow a road. If there is a power outage or trees down, the county is asking residents to use their website to report weather-related issues.
VDOT says that by midnight, more than 4,000 trucks will be stationed in Northern Virginia, ready to plow state-maintained highways and streets, like I-66, I-395 and Route 50.
No closures have been announced yet for school or the government — county and federal — but residents should continue to check throughout the night once the snow begins to fall.
Arlington is also reminding residents of the county’s snow removal ordinance.
The County’s Snow Removal Ordinance requires all Arlington property owners to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks adjacent to their property within a designated time period. The ordinance also prohibits transferring or depositing snow and ice from private property onto public property. Individual homeowners who are physically incapable of complying with the Ordinance are exempt. Visit the County website for more information on the Snow Removal Ordinance. Remember to clear snow from cars and sidewalks into the adjacent yard, not the street.
Residents can use the “Report a Snow Issue” form 24 hours after snowfall has stopped to report snow removal issues or areas that need attention. County staffers monitor the requests, but are unable to respond to every message.
Update at 4:20 p.m. — Arlington County has announced all facilities and programs, including those in schools, will close tonight at 9:00 p.m. The status for school tomorrow remains undetermined.
The press release from McAuliffe’s office:
Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency today, an action that authorizes state agencies to be ready to assist local governments in responding to the major snow storm that is forecast to hit the Commonwealth starting tomorrow.
In declaring a state of emergency, the governor authorizes state agencies to identify and position resources for quick response anywhere they are needed in Virginia.
“Now is the time for Virginia to get ready for this storm,” said Governor McAuliffe. “This state of emergency declaration will empower the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Department of Transportation, the Virginia National Guard, and our electric and cable utilities to prepare for a storm that is predicted to create power outages and significant travel challenges across the Commonwealth over the next few days.
“Just as state government is preparing for this storm, I urge every Virginian to take proper preparations. Prepare to limit unnecessary travel during the storm, have emergency supplies on hand and be ready in the event that power in your area goes out.”
To prepare for the storm:
- The Virginia Emergency Operations Center has additional response team members to coordinate the state’s response to the storm.
- The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is coordinating conference calls between the National Weather Service, state agencies and local governments.
- The Virginia Department of Transportation is treating roads in some parts of the Commonwealth, and crews will be out in full force for snow removal as the storm arrives. Roads with the highest traffic volumes are cleared first. VDOT has adequate supplies for this storm.
- The Virginia National Guard has been authorized to bring up to 300 personnel on state active duty to support emergency response operations. Virginia Guard personnel will be alerted to begin staging and expect to be in place Wednesday so they are able to rapidly respond if needed.
- The Virginia State Police will extend shifts and have additional troopers on patrol to expedite response times to traffic crashes and disabled motorists.
- Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours, in case roads are blocked and/or there are power outages.
- A three-day supply of food includes a gallon of water per person per day and food that does not require electricity to prepare it.
- Have a battery powered and/or hand-crank radio and extra batteries for emergency information. Listen to local weather forecasts and instructions from local officials.
- Always run generators outside in well-ventilated areas. Never use a portable generator in any enclosed or partially enclosed space.
- Only travel if absolutely necessary. Roads can become very hazardous very quickly. Always wear a seatbelt, and know road conditions before you leave. Road condition information is available 24/7 by calling 511 or going to www.511Virginia.gov
- Have emergency supplies in your vehicle. If you are stranded you will need water, food, blankets, flashlight and extra batteries at a minimum.
- Avoid overexertion while shoveling snow and cleaning up from the storm, no matter your age or physical condition. Shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse.
- If you need help for an elderly or disabled person during the storm, need information on warming shelters or are concerned about an unsheltered individual or family, call 211 or visit www.211virginia.org. When you call 211, a trained professional will suggest sources of help using one of the largest databases of health and human services in your community and statewide.
- Get winter weather preparedness information at www.ReadyVirginia.gov and download the new Ready Virginia app for iPhones and Android devices.
Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) encourages residents to make a commitment to being better prepared for emergencies in 2014, perhaps even by making it a new year’s resolution.
OEM highlights the statewide Ready Virginia initiative and asks Arlington residents to join in the campaign by having a plan in case of emergencies.
“I believe we all have a role in emergency management by ensuring that we are prepared, that we have a plan and that we get involved,” said Arlington County Office of Emergency Management Director Jack Brown.
Families should devise an emergency plan and go over it together. All members of the family should understand crucial aspects of the plan such as where to meet if the family is separated. Post the plan in an easily viewed place, such as on the refrigerator. Answer the following questions when coming up with the plan:
- Do you and your family members have contact phone numbers memorized or written down and available in backpacks and wallets?
- Do you have a plan on how to meet up with family if you are separated?
- Do you know how to contact your children’s school in case of an emergency?
- Do you have three days of emergency supplies and water set aside?
The emergency kit should contain enough of the following items to last for three days:
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
- Non-perishable food and a can opener
- First aid kit and medications
- Pet supplies
Home isn’t the only place residents need to be prepared. OEM notes that emergencies can happen at work and in the car, so separate plans should be made for safety in those locations. For example, OEM spokesman John Crawford noted that during the Navy Yard shooting last year, some people were required to “shelter in place.” Many did not have adequate food, water or medications in their work area. In addition to those supplies, Crawford also recommends keeping a small flashlight, batteries and a battery operated cell phone charger at work.
Having emergency contact numbers written on a paper and kept in a purse or wallet can come in handy should a cell phone battery die.
“When the emergency comes, all our contact information is in our cell phones, a majority of phone numbers are there,” said Crawford. “If you lose the ability to get that information and your phone is dead, you can’t access emergency numbers.”
The current cold snap is another example of a situation when preparedness can be beneficial. Drivers should prepare for the possibility of becoming stranded by keeping plenty of gas in their vehicles and keeping cell phones charged. Have extra blankets and snacks in the car as well.
“Winter preparedness may be a little bit different from summer preparedness, but if you’re prepared for one emergency, you’re pretty much prepared for every emergency,” said Crawford. “In the Snowmageddon a couple years ago, people were stranded for hours on the GW Parkway. The lessons we learned from that is that people were not prepared. People needed water and food and they didn’t have it. They needed blankets and didn’t have it.”
One of the important factors about having preparedness plans is to practice them often so they become second nature. Not being well versed in all aspects of the plan could be dangerous in an emergency when stress could cause details to be forgotten.
“If you train enough in anything, and then the disaster comes, you won’t think twice about what you have to do,” Crawford said. “You’ll already know what to do.”
The Arlington Prepares mobile app can be downloaded onto Apple and Android devices. Residents can also sign up for Arlington Alert, which allows the county to contact you during an emergency by sending messages to your email or mobile device.
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.
Around 9:45 a.m., an emergency call came in for an elevator worker who somehow got caught in an elevator pulley system at 1300 17th Street N. in Rosslyn. By the time emergency workers arrived at the scene, the man’s co-workers had already untangled him from the cables and pulley.
Emergency workers reported the worker’s hand was partially severed at the palm. The man, who is in his 60s, was transported to the trauma center at George Washington University hospital.
No additional information is available regarding his condition.
A kickoff event featuring an “emergency preparedness social and photo booth” is planned for Thursday, Sept. 5. That event will take place from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at A-Town Bar and Grill at 4100 Fairfax Drive.
Starting Sept. 12, Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse will be hosting Disaster Movie Month, showing classic disaster films until Sept. 30.
There will be three nights of “preparedness trivia” — at Crystal City Sports Pub (529 23rd Street S.) on Labor Day, Sept. 2 at 8:00 p.m.; at Samuel Beckett’s (2800 S. Randolph Street) on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m.; and at Clarendon Grill (1101 N. Highland Street) on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 8:00 p.m.
A “Power Outage Webinar” will be held online at noon on Friday, Sept. 20.
A community “table top exercise” is planned for Tuesday, Sept. 24 in the Arlington Central Library auditorium (1015 N. Quincy Street). Representatives from Dominion Virginia Power, Verizon, Arlington Public Schools and public safety officials will be on hand for the event, which starts at 7:00 p.m.
In addition to the events, Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management released a list of tips for residents to make sure they’re prepared in case of a natural disaster or emergency:
- Learn about the emergency plan for your business
- Test your communication plan with your family
- Check your emergency supplies
- Know when to shelter in place and when to evacuate. If you are safe where you are, stay where you are until you get more information. Visit sites.arlingtonva.us/oem
- Important documents: keep them together, safe and accessible — include insurance policies, photos of your home, home floor plan and personal property inventory. Tip: Put on a flash drive and leave with a family or friend.
- Medication: ask your doctor for samples — put in your supply kit; Have backup plans for oxygen or batteries.
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training instructs attendees on how to respond when an emergency occurs. The skills learned can be used in a variety of situations that could occur at home — including fires and medical emergencies — as well as community situations — such as terrorist attacks, hurricanes and tornadoes.
More than 600 Arlington residents have completed the training, and they are sometimes called upon by the county to assist when emergencies occur — like during last summer’s derecho storm.
Two fall sessions will be available, one beginning on September 12 and another on September 17. Each session includes eight classes. There is limited space and advanced registration is required by sending an email to [email protected]
The classes are open to Arlington residents and those who work in the county but reside elsewhere. Participants must be at least 18 years of age, or 16 if accompanied by a parent. All classes meet at the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) Training Academy in Shirlington and are taught by ACFD and Office of Emergency Management staff, along with CERT members.
Some 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.”
Crawford 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.”
The matter of keeping up with current technology is prompting county workers to investigate whether Arlington’s 911 system can soon upgrade and add a texting option. While it appears texting eventually will be added to the mix, it isn’t imminent.
“Certainly texting is something we want to get to, especially when someone is in a compromised position where they can’t talk on the phone,” said Arlington County Office of Emergency Management Director Jack Brown. “It’s something I believe is in the future.”
A few communities across the country — such as parts of Tennessee, Iowa, North Carolina and Vermont — have implemented or are experimenting with “Next Generation 911.” The Federal Communications Commission — which in 2010 held a press conference at Arlington’s Emergency Communication Center touting Next Gen 911 technology — announced in December that the top four cell phone carriers in America agreed to speed up the availability of the service, ensuring that 90 percent of the country’s cell phone users would have the capability by May 2014.
Although cell phones will be enabled for emergency texting, few 911 dispatch centers have the ability to receive texts. The Next Gen 911 systems are largely in their infancy and gaps exist to such a degree that officials in Arlington prefer to wait until the technology becomes further perfected.
“We want to put our money and time into the right place the first time,” said Emergency Communications Center (ECC) Deputy Commander Jeff Horwitz. “Prematurely, a resource could be more harmful than waiting to release it. So we’re really nervous about people sending texts to 911 before it’s ready.”
The current programs do not have provisions to allow 911 dispatchers to immediately determine a text sender’s location like they can with a phone call. Some communities moved forward with the texting system even without the ability to pinpoint where an emergency occurred, but Arlington is not willing to take that risk. Additionally, the texting system doesn’t allow dispatchers to determine if a person is quietly awaiting more instructions or if the emergency has resolved itself.
“When you hang up, our system knows you dropped a call. When you text, I don’t know when you’re done. Are you there? Are you being attacked? Are you unconscious? I don’t have any info telling me your call is dropped,” Horwitz said.
Perhaps the most pressing concern surrounding emergency texting is the inability to communicate immediately with callers. Although situations arise in which callers cannot speak to dispatchers, such instances are relatively rare. Typically, dispatchers are able to get more information from callers, soothe them and even offer potentially life saving assistance. It would prove far more difficult for dispatchers to help someone administer CPR, for example, if the person attempted to text while doing chest compressions.
“We really like to be able to talk to the people,” Brown said. “I can just envision someone texting 911 and someone trying to text back instructions. We haven’t worked that out yet.”
Both Horwitz and Brown stressed that implementing a flawed system could prove disastrous. Arlington had a glimpse into the seriousness of a failed 911 system during last year’s derecho, and nobody is interested in repeating that type of scenario.
From fires to health scares to severe storms, emergencies can occur at any time and being prepared is key. Arlington County is offering free classes to train residents how to help themselves and others if an emergency occurs.
The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training began 10 years ago in Arlington and 575 residents have completed the program in that time. The hands-on training covers topics such as disaster preparedness, disaster medical operations, light search and rescue, team organization, disaster psychology, fire suppression and terrorism.
One example of what CERT members do was evident last June during the derecho. Members assisted the community in various capacities immediately following the storm, often as points of contact when calls weren’t getting through to 911.
“We had people strategically posted at fire stations to dispatch the right help to where it was needed,” said Arlington County Office of Emergency Management Director Jack Brown. “The community response teams, CERT, they really stepped up to the plate.”
There are two training sessions scheduled for next month, one beginning on March 7 and the other on March 12. Each session includes eight classes which will meet on six weeknights and two Saturdays. All classes meet at the Arlington County Fire Department Training Academy in Shirlington and are taught by ACFD and Office of Emergency Management staff, as well as active duty CERT members.
Advance registration is required to participate in the classes, and there are still some spots left for the March training. Those interested should email the program’s volunteer coordinator, Cynthia Kellams, at [email protected] Participants must be Arlington residents who are at least 18 years old.