PUBLIC WARNING in the nation's capital

RSAN and WAVES mass notification systems inform the public of impending harm


     Arlington County's Office of Emergency Management (OEM), in partnership with the City of Alexandria's OEM, was selected under a federal grant from DHS to manage the pilot test of WAVES. The federally funded $400,000 pilot program was authorized by the Emergency Preparedness Council of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

     "As DHS approved Arlington County and the City of Alexandria system, we provided outdoor voice alerting as well as indoor in key buildings," explains Avidan. "We can target each area or building separately. To reach people in areas not yet covered by WAVES, we are integrating with Roam Secure's Arlington Alert System [powered by RSAN] to reach people with cell phones, SMS and e-mail throughout the NCR."

     Robert Griffin, director of Arlington's OEM, which is responsible for the county's strategic emergency priorities, says the system worked as planned on the Fourth of July.

     "There were about 700 to 800 people at the Iwo Jima Memorial when we got the alert from our weather forecasters," describes Griffin. "We had deployed a WAVES mobile unit to the area, and we were able to get everyone out of the path of the storms within a few minutes," he says.

     Griffin credits the quick response to WAVES and to Arlington's other first responder agencies. "All our first responders fully embrace our warning systems and realize that effective, timely notification clearly saves lives," he says.

     Arlington Chief of Police Doug Scott agrees, noting, "We were the first to use Roam Secure's alert network, and it was very quickly accepted by all our first responders. We understand how to use it to its full capability."

     Scott says that Arlington's close proximity to the district, all the leased government space in Crystal City, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and several national monuments made this the perfect testing location for RSAN and WAVES.

     "We also have about 12,000 hotel rooms which run at about 90 percent occupancy most of the time in the Arlington and Rosslyn areas," he says. "It is extremely important to have systems in place to alert our guests as well as residents."

     According to Griffin, Arlington also received about $2 million of a UASI grant to upgrade the county's radio system and about $700,000 in pass-through funding to create an AM radio station (1700 AM) and watch desk for public notification.

Future communications projects
     On the horizon, within the next few months, Earthlink will provide Arlington with a subscriber Wi-Fi system covering the county. County emergency managers will have the ability to interrupt a user's session with emergency information any time it's necessary.

     Also in the short-term plans for Arlington is a new 911 emergency operations center incorporating the new technology and expanding interoperability capabilities. The center will utilize GIS and AVL systems integrated with its Tiburon platform. This, in addition to a mobile command unit also purchased with UASI funds, assures Arlington residents are informed about dangerous situations.

     Griffin says, "We're not stopping until we have the capability to reach everyone everywhere, but the citizens who demanded this level of alert notification need to take some responsibility. Sign up!"

     In a region where hundreds of agencies converge to do business, tourists flock to national monuments and millions of people live and work, it seems public safety officials have answered the wake up call to adequately inform the public of impending harm.

Capital district funding
     According to Jo'Ellen Gray Countee, public information officer for the District of Columbia Emergency Management Agency (DCEMA), the National Capital Region (NCR) receives funds as a region. These funds are administered by the DCEMA on behalf of the region. Spending priorities are determined by the region in keeping with the NCR's strategic plan and priorities identified by the Department of Homeland Security.

     For instance, during 2005 the region conducted a public education campaign funded by $4.5 million in Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funds. This was a region-wide campaign that included research, advertising, training/community outreach and public relations.

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