Arlington County has partnered with XM Satellite Radio in a deal that allows the radio company to broadcast emergency messages, an expansion of a public warning system already used in the county.
The arrangement was touted by county and radio officials as the first partnership between D.C.-based XM Radio and any local government. The agreement, which costs the county nothing, widens the reach of Arlington Alert. The free service electronically sends to subscribers -- either by e-mail or cell phone text message -- information about emergencies such as road closures, impending storms and traffic tie-ups, said Jack Belcher, the county's chief information officer.
Under the deal, those messages will be broadcast on XM Satellite Radio's Channel 214, which is dedicated to traffic and weather updates in the Washington region, Belcher said.
"It just made sense to do this," said Belcher, who oversees the county's office of technology and information systems. "It's a win-win solution for everyone. There was no money spent, but there's a lot of value in this service."
XM Satellite Radio -- with 4.4 million subscribers nationwide and thousands in the Washington area -- delivers continuously-updated traffic information to 21 metropolitan markets, XM Radio spokesman Chance Patterson said.
The partnership with Arlington enhances the traffic bulletins and urgent information already broadcast on XM's Channel 214, he said.
"By working with Arlington County, XM now offers drivers in the Washington area a way to get very current, very important and more detailed information very quickly," Patterson said. "We hope it becomes a model for other local governments."
One reason for the partnership, Belcher said, was to have "another cutting-edge" way to quickly get important information to county employees and commuters. And because communities in the Washington region are so closely linked, an emergency in Arlington could affect thousands of area residents, he said, citing the Pentagon, the 14th Street bridge on Interstate 395 and Reagan National Airport, all of which are in the county and are sensitive security points.
"Whether it's that the 14th Street bridge is closed because of an accident or there was an oil leak on 395 or something more significant, like Sept. 11, people want to know the news right away," Belcher said. "There's a need to communicate and exchange information as quickly as possible. And we can't do it all on our own."
Belcher said the Roam Secure Alert Network, which powers Arlington Alert (available at www.arlingtonalert.com), will connect the county's service to XM Radio. XM broadcasts live daily from studios in Washington, New York City and Nashville and has more than 150 digital channels, most of them commercial-free.
The agreement paves the way for other Roam Secure customers in the region to broadcast their emergency information over XM frequencies, David Drescher, CEO of Roam Secure, said in a statement.
In other technology matters, Arlington, which was recently named among the top 10 digital counties in the country by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties, also announced the creation of a high-speed fiber optic link to Alexandria.
Officials said the connection will initially be used for voice and video transmissions between the jurisdictions' public safety agencies. The jurisdictions share a juvenile detention facility, for example, and the new connection will be used in case discussions, Belcher said.
Eventually, officials said, the jurisdictions might use the connection, which cost less than $20,000 to create, to back up their individual 911 call centers and emergency operations centers, share live video and satellite programming and integrate traffic management between communities.
It will someday be used also to connect with the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County, as well as possibly connecting to other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, officials said.