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Arlington County Civic Federation

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ACCF Public Services Committee
Questions on Emergency Preparedness
With Arlington County Responses

November, 2001

The ACCF Inquiry

"To the Members of the Arlington County Board:

We are pleased that you have decided to hold a public forum on the issue of emergency preparedness/civil preparedness as a first step in what we expect will be a continuing public dialogue on how to improve our planning and communication on topics of vital concern to our community. We believe that better public information on these topics is necessary both in light of the events of September 11th and the ensuing days and also recent weather phenomena, such as the tornado in South Arlington, that have demonstrated a need to improve our capability of communication and response. We realize, given our questions alone, that one meeting will be totally inadequate to deal with the concerns among Arlington citizens.

The following questions have been prepared by members of the Civic Federation Public Services Committee with suggestions from additional leaders in the fields of education, public health, and long-term civic activism and involvement. As this committee and other groups develop additional information/questions, we look forward to meeting with appropriate County staff to further our knowledge and understanding. As you will note, some of these questions are quite basic. This is an indication that even those who are clearly considered leaders in the community are unsure as to what systems are in readiness and what they should be doing as recognized leaders in their respective communities/fields. The overarching issue focuses on what information and communications infrastructures are in place or being developed.

We recognize that the format of your November 8th meeting will not provide adequate time to answer all these questions or others that arise in the course of time. We look forward to working with you on an on-going basis to provide appropriate methods for answering these questions and to communicate the answers to our community. We cannot underestimate how important the "Arlington Way" is to us and to our fellow citizens at this time in our history. To that end, we are interested in learning what the next steps are in bringing citizens together to share concerns and to talk about what we expect of our County government and other organizations in terms of emergency preparedness as well as what we can offer as Civic Association leaders or volunteer organization leaders.

Our questions are categorized by generic topic.

Our Questions, and the County Responses

This is an extraordinarly informative exchange!!


1. FEMA and the Association of Emergency Managers recommend that communities conduct a systematic review of readiness to perform 13 specific emergency functions. They have developed an assessment instrument called L-CAR. Has Arlington done such an assessment? Has it used the L-CAR instrument or another nationally recognized model? What were the results?

A: L-CAR was piloted to several jurisdictions within Virginia last year. As soon as the Virginia Department of Emergency Management offers this program to Arlington, we will participate. We continually evaluate and update our emergency operations plans. Our plan was last revised in April of this year. We have also conducted systematic reviews, tabletop exercises and practical exercises to test our emergency plans and functions for effectiveness. These plans were implemented on September 11, 2001, and proved to be effective.

2.There are several superlative models of emergency preparedness in cities across the country. Has Arlington compared its system to those nationally ranked?

A: During the update of our plan, we reviewed plans of many other jurisdictions. We also consult regularly with emergency management personnel from around the country. Our plan has incorporated components of other jurisdictions� plans as a result of our review of these plans and consultations.

3. Have risk analysis studies been accomplished to determine which critical infrastructure services are single-threaded, and are steps being taken to develop back-ups and workarounds? For example, if the E-911 center is lost, is there an alternate means of emergency communications?

A: A study of this type was conducted in preparation for Y2K. Critical infrastructures were identified and back-ups are in place or already identified and planned. The Emergency Communications Center (ECC) in Arlington maintains a back up location away from the County�s Government Center. This facility is called the Auxiliary Operations Center (AOC). The AOC is spartan compared to the ECC, but it provides basic 9-1-1 and non-emergency telephone service and police and fire radio dispatch capability. In the event that both the ECC and AOC are not operational, Arlington 9-1-1 calls would be routed to the Alexandria radio system and dispatched by Alexandria. Arlington Police units would switch to the Fairfax County radio system and be dispatched by Fairfax County.

4. What will you be doing to ensure that Arlington residents and workers in Arlington know what is expected of them in various types of emergencies and know that their county has plans? Will they have enough prior information on these plans to ensure their cooperation and assistance?

A: We will continue to offer information in many ways. Currently, we are broadcasting information on the website and over Info 31. In the past we have used the Citizen, which is distributed to every household in Arlington, to distribute information. We are also republishing an updated version of the brochure on emergency preparedness we issued for Y2K that should be out in the Washington Post Sunday insert in mid-December. Communicating with our residents during an emergency is a key element of our emergency operations plan, and the primary means whereby we would communicate with the public in an emergency would be through the media, especially radio. That is why we recommend that every family have a battery-powered radio as part of their personal emergency preparedness plan.


1. One of the 13 functions of readiness identified by FEMA is "Crisis Communication, Public Education and Information". Does Arlington have a broad-based Public Education and communication plan for various emergencies, and, if so, how and when will the county share this information?

A: An annex of our Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan deals with communications. A team of employees serves on a task group that will provide information during a crisis. This task group is currently using the web site and other means to distribute information to the public. Some of this effort is through handouts to the public school students when appropriate.

2. What have you done or planned to do to involve the civic associations and volunteer organizations in your emergency preparedness plan?

A: Several volunteer organizations already participate in our planning efforts. The Red Cross has a comprehensive plan to assist us in any emergency. The volunteer coordinator helped deploy many volunteers during our recent emergencies.

3. Does the Board have systems in place that will guarantee that the government will be able to provide all necessary or critical services and communication to all citizens under various emergencies?

A: Our Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan was developed to handle anticipated emergencies while maintaining necessary services. Additionally, we have mutual aid agreements that allow us to get needed resources to respond to any situation.

4. If there are emergencies where the government is not able to provide communication and necessary or critical services to all citizens, what plans does the county have to solicit and organize potential citizen/volunteer assistance? Will meetings be held to identify the capabilities and resources of such groups within the near future?

A: Historically, organizations such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and others have managed the volunteer efforts. They are better equipped to train, organize, activate, and equip volunteer assistance.

5. How do you plan on communicating/disseminating information to the citizenry if the electricity or telephones go out in an emergency?

A: In the event that electricity and/or telephone service is knocked out in the County, the police would employ tactics such as driving up and down County streets using our PA system to instruct residents to go to a designated school or firehouse nearby for additional information and/or emergency assistance. The primary means whereby residents can get information in this circumstance is via a battery-powered radio and tuning in to one of the Washington area news stations.

6. Are Ham Radio operators and owners of CB's being involved in preparations? Has the County developed a list of available volunteers with HAM radios and/or CBs?

A: Ham Radios and CB�s have long been a part of the Red Cross function within our plan. They have participated in many of the County�s exercises of the emergency plan. Most Arlington County and other Northern Virginia operators belong to the Amateur Radio Emergency Service/Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (ARES/RACES). Since 1990 members of ARES/RACES have been an integral part of the County�s Emergency Management Plan and are included in the Communications Task Group mandated under that plan. When needed, the lead ARES/RACES representative is paged by ECC. This person then alerts other ARES/RACES members.

7. Has any thought been given to reinstalling sirens (which existed at the schools) to alert the surrounding community of an emergency and the need to get to a source of information?

A: The sirens were a part of the Civil Defense system and were removed because they were not maintained. Additionall,y most people get information in other ways such as TVs and radios. We are currently evaluating other emergency alerting systems that are being used throughout the country such as the weather alerting system used in Florida.


1. What are we doing to secure the water in our system that's already been treated - such as water in the water towers? (It has been said that these are secured with bike locks and they are not being guarded.)

A: Police are conducting additional security checks at these facilities, and Department of Public Works personnel are monitoring the water supply more frequently as a precautionary measure.

2. Is there a regional approach to protecting the reservoirs? How often is testing being done?

A: We know of no regional approach to protecting reservoirs. The Washington Aqueduct as well as Arlington�s Department of Public Works are testing the water more frequently as a precautionary measure.

3. Are the bridges being monitored and inspected on a regular basis?

A: All of the bridges going into the District of Columbia come under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Department. However, Arlington County Police have identified numerous sites and locations within the County for our police officers to make extra checks or conduct additional surveillance. All patrol officers are aware of the locations the County has deemed high priority.

4. Is Metro being adequately monitored and secured?

A: Although the County has concurrent jurisdiction on the Metro system in Arlington, the primary responsibility for the rail system is with the Metro Transit Authority. Arlington Police have assigned details to patrol the rail system during times of heightened alert. The County has also improved its capabilities to respond to HAZMAT incidents in the rail system.

5. Are our power stations adequately protected at the local level? Are there national security plans in effect to protect the East and West Coast grids?

A: Additional security checks are being performed by Arlington Police. Residents should report anything suspicious to the police. The power companies have plans to protect their infrastructure and maintain power in the event of all but the most dire emergencies.

6. Are the natural gas lines adequately safeguarded? Is there a quick shut-off (and notification) response available for smaller geographic areas?

A: Additional security checks are being performed by Arlington Police. Residents should report anything suspicious to the police. The natural gas lines are basically protected by the fact that most are underground. We have a direct phone line to the Gas Company and they have the ability to shut off parts of the system as necessary. Additionally, the fire department can shut off various sections with equipment they carry.


1. In case of a bio-terrorist attack, such as a deliberate smallpox outbreak, will there be a cadre of DHS Medical staff vaccinated and trained to operate in such an environment to contain the spread of the bio-agent?

A: There are intensive planning processes at the national, state, and regional level for methods to ensure prompt and appropriate distribution of medications, vaccines, or other medical supplies from the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS). Any activation of the NPS would be regional, and services would be provided in a coordinated manner with other jurisdictions, with oversight and support from the state and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has the responsibility for management of the NPS. The CDC is developing medical teams, which will be vaccinated against smallpox and which could be quickly deployed in the event of a suspected smallpox case. All local medical and public health personnel are thoroughly trained in the use of "universal precautions," and local hospitals have isolation rooms, which would effectively contain the spread of any potentially communicable diseases.

2. Has a plan been developed to effect quarantines should potentially fatal communicable diseases be introduced into the population?

A: Virginia has long had provisions in the state code for quarantine and isolation of people with communicable diseases that present a risk to the public. This law has been used infrequently, but has been invoked a few times in recent years to ensure protection of the public against some especially severe cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in those instances where the person would not voluntarily comply with public health recommendations. Local and state public health officials are familiar with the legal procedures and recently have had discussions about how the legal processes could be expedited if needed.

3. The Federal government has ordered the production of 300 million smallpox vaccines. Is there a plan for administering these vaccines in Arlington beyond private physicians?

A: Arlington staff are participating in the refinement of national, state and regional plans for mass distribution of medications and vaccines. It is not expected that an emergency distribution would be dependent upon the use of private physicians, except to the extent that they would provide support at designated community distribution sites. If there were a new national policy to reinstate the routine use of smallpox vaccination, this would be handled in the same way that we now provide other routine vaccinations�a combination of availability through private physicians and through public health clinics. Currently, the local public health clinics provide a significant proportion of the routine childhood and adult immunizations in the community. The public health staff have experience implementing special vaccine programs to ensure the provision of new or urgently needed vaccination. Recent examples include provision of hepatitis B vaccinations to 5th grade students and influenza and pneumococcal vaccines to vulnerable adults.

4. Other possible biological agents have recently been reported in the newspapers, including dengue fever and nerve gas. Are there plans to deal with the various scenarios?

A: The Washington metro area is home to a National Medical Response Team (administered by Arlington) trained to deal with most known bio-chem agents.

5. The United States mails appear particularly vulnerable at this time. Is there testing being conducted in any of Arlington's post offices?

A: As part of the recent assessment by the U.S. Postal Service, some of the postal facilities in Arlington were randomly selected for testing. There has been no evidence of anthrax spores, or of the spread of disease in the post offices that distribute mail to the Arlington community. This will continue to be monitored by the U.S. Postal Service and by state and local public health officials so that prompt action could be taken if needed.

6. Virginia Hospital Center - Arlington has frequently been placed on by-pass status. What alternatives are being considered should the hospital's resources again become seriously overwhelmed?

A: In order to be accredited by the national hospital accreditation system, each hospital has an emergency plan that includes how they would respond to an emergency that is larger than their usual emergency capacity. As part of its current renovations, Virginia Hospital Center�Arlington is including some additional facilities that can be used in a flexible manner for larger emergencies if required. The hospitals of Northern Virginia have been working on a plan to share resources if needed in a larger emergency or in the event some of the hospitals in the region need resources beyond those in their own facilities. In addition, the County�s emergency preparedness planning includes provisions for sites to be set up away from the hospital for medical triage or management of minor injuries that do not require hospital care in order to keep the hospital system freed up to attend to the most urgent cases.

7. In April of this year, we asked Congressman Moran about securing a biological/nuclear/chemical containment unit in the event of that type of attack. Have we revisited the possibility of gaining a bomb containment unit capable of explosively dispersing biological, chemical or "dirty" nuclear weapons? Is there an agreement in place whereby we would have access to those presumably possessed by the military? (Currently available units are designed to blow upwards and out and are consequently inappropriate for biological/chemical weapons.)

A: We have some capability to respond to these types of weapons. We also have the necessary agreements in place to obtain needed resources.


1. What precautions do you expect citizens to take in preparation for both natural (ice storms, tornadoes) or man-induced emergencies? Food? Water? Quantities? Batteryoperated radios? Emergency heat supplies? Various experts have been advising citizens to have 3 gallons of water per person, and the National Weather Service indicates the need to store one week's supply of bottled water, but the Arlington web site says that water is not a problem. This seems like conflicting advice.

A: The guidelines provided by the Weather Service, FEMA, Red Cross and other organizations are general guidelines that would apply in any emergency. The information on the Arlington web site regarding water availability was in response to the specific question of the possible contamination of the water supply. The emergency preparedness guidelines that the County has distributed have consistently advised residents to follow the Red Cross guidelines for storage of emergency supplies, including food and water. Arlington, along with its northern Virginian regional partners, is republishing an emergency preparedness guide that will be distributed to residents in their Washington Post inserts in mid-December or come via normal mail for non-subscribers.

2. Are there shelters or meeting places with communication systems and provisions? How will we know where to go? If we have to go to a shelter, what will we find there? How will students get to shelters? Residents or workers? Buses make the most sense, but that takes a plan.

A: One of the many annexes to our plan is the shelter annex. A task force is in place that has planed for sheltering if necessary. Various building within our community are designed to provide shelter as necessary. In certain emergencies, sheltering in place is the best option. This information will be communicated as needed. The plans include the use of buses if necessary.

3. Have we encouraged the large office buildings in the area to update and exercise emergency evacuation plans?

A: It's a requirement of the Fire Prevention Code that these buildings have such plans and that they exercise them.

4. Are building owners such as Charles E. Smith required to plan and exercise responses to various emergencies?

A: Yes.

5. Are evacuation plans being prepared and how and when would they be communicated to the citizens?

A: Plans are being discussed on a regional basis. The type of evacuation plan that would be ordered, however, would depend completely on the circumstances mandating a decision to evacuate. One plan calls for a slow, deliberate evacuation of the County with those furthest out exiting first. Another plan would call for Traffic Engineering personnel to alter traffic signals of major arteries to permit traffic to move faster in westbound lanes. Outbound HOV lanes can be opened to allow a wider evacuation route. The primary means whereby the County would communicate instructions to the public for evacuation would likely be the media, although we also intend to use every means at our disposal based on the severity of the need to conduct an evacuation.


1. What are you planning to do to support the most vulnerable citizens (i.e., the disabled, the elderly, the homeless) in an emergency?

A: The County emergency plans for shelter and evacuation have recognized that there are populations who would have special needs in those circumstances. A variety of community organizations and the programs in the Department of Human Services which provide services to those populations have made provisions for the identification of and outreach to those special groups in the event of an emergency. Currently, the FEMA-funded Community Disaster Recovery Project (now called Project Community Resilience) provides staff and other resources to enable outreach to the community, with particular attention to populations that are vulnerable or face barriers to communication and services access. In addition, ongoing service programs are examining specific needs of client groups. The Department of Human Services (DHS) is working with the non-profit agencies that provide shelter to homeless persons to develop emergency plans in the event of emergencies that affect their operations. The plans will depend on the nature and extent of the emergency, and shelters may need to remain in place or evacuate. Each non-profit is responsible for its own plan, with the County providing assistance and information. In addition, DHS has developed written emergency plans for each of its programs targeting the elderly and disability populations in the County. County staff have identified the need to reach out to the deaf community and the more isolated frail and disabled seniors who often do not have access to the mainstream communication channels. DHS is in constant communication with the non-profit providers who serve these vulnerable populations. DHS has provided the Fire Department with detailed information regarding sites where these vulnerable persons are in the event of an emergency. Consumers of mental health and substance abuse programs will be provided with information on how to access services in their neighborhoods as well as be given information about support services available at various program sites (clubhouse, jail, group homes, shelters, Drewry Center). Clients diagnosed with a serious mental illness will be contacted by their respective County case manager who will make an initial assessment to determine if there are any special supports needed in the event of an emergency.

2. Many of the most vulnerable do not have access to transportation, nor do some have the physical dexterity necessary to effect a rapid evacuation. Are there plans to insure adequate assistance for these individuals, particularly those who live alone?

A: Persons being served by DHS programs and who are known to have mobility or transportation issues will be assessed on a case-by-case basis in the event of an emergency. County staff will take the necessary steps to arrange transportation for these persons as needed. The County also encourages citizens to be familiar with their neighbors, so that they could provide assistance or identify the need for special assistance.

3. Children are an extreme source of concern to all of us. In the event of an emergency other than snow or ice storms, are there plans in effect to deal with the separation of children from their parents? Specifically, Chris Wallace did a program where he asked a couple how they would respond to a chlorine gas spill on the Beltway COMBINED with a power outage. In his example, the couples' first response was to use any means to reach their children - including heading toward the gas on foot if necessary. How are parents supposed to know what to do? Is there a particular radio station (assuming these communications are available) to which they should tune?

A: During an emergency many options are available to the incident commanders and the communications experts identified in our CEMP. One of those options is the EAS, which could be activated to alert people to tune to radio stations for detailed information. Other systems are being looked at to address this concern. In addition, the Department of Human Services works closely with the schools and child care providers to provide support and assistance to address the mental health needs of the children during an emergency. DHS staff will continue to offer technical assistance and training to school personnel and child care providers regarding how to communicate and respond to children in the event of a separation from their parents during an emergency.

4. Parents of Arlington public school children complete Emergency forms at the beginning of each school year. These have essentially been designed for severe ice or snowstorms, excessive heat, etc. Have you developed, in cooperation with the School Board, plans that would include natural disasters such as tornado warnings where release of the children would be ill-advised? Have you developed alternative plans should a lockin situation become necessary? Are there adequate supplies should this situation arise, including food? Water? Medical supplies? For how long would these supplies last? Have there been communications with parents and students?

A: Each school has an Emergency Management Response Plan. The schools plan for weather-related emergencies, natural disasters and other threats including national security crises. All staff have reviewed and updated their plans and regularly practice their implementation. If an emergency required keeping children at the school, the school would be viewed as an emergency shelter and would be provided all of the necessary support from schools and county departments, as well as the Red Cross and other relief agencies. School staff members also are actively involved with the county's emergency team.

5. The effects of natural disasters on the pet population have been well-documented. Is the County working with the Animal Welfare League to prepare and disseminate recommendations regarding pet safety and protocols during an emergency?

A: The Department of Human Services has been working with the Animal Welfare League to develop and disseminate recommendations for pet safety during an emergency. This issue will be addressed in the emergency preparedness brochure to be issued in mid- December.

This page was last revised on: December 28, 2003.
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