Getting Information to Residents

The county has several ways to communicate with residents during an emergency, Griffin said, including such tried-and-true methods as variable message signs, walking door-to-door, shouting through bullhorns and working with news organizations.

Fairfax County's public affairs director, Merni Fitzgerald, is the single point of contact for Department of Homeland Security communications with the public regarding emergency events in the Washington area. Thus, Fairfax is in a unique position to be among the first in the region to be informed of emergencies.

As the holder of one of three regional radio caches, Fairfax County has 500 radios for first responders. An additional 500 radios are in Montgomery County, and 250 are in the District. The radios will help authorities communicate across the region during a crisis.

Among the initiatives planned:

* Sirens to warn residents of emergencies.

* A highway advisory radio project beginning in southeast Fairfax, including the flood-prone areas of Belle View and New Alexandria. This would give the county the ability to reach residents via a dedicated AM radio signal.

* Reverse 911 would give the county the ability to call residents with instructions and alerts during an event specific to their neighborhoods or Zip codes.

Who Does What During an Emergency

* Fairfax uses an "all hazards" approach to emergency management, Griffin said, meaning the county needs to be ready for anything from severe weather to a terrorist attack to traffic delays. Griffin has delegated emergency management roles and responsibilities to 26 county agencies and external partners.

* The Office of Emergency Management, a separate county agency since 2004, coordinates the government's response.

* The Emergency Management Coordinating Committee is headed by Deputy County Executive Robert A. Stalzer. The committee is a group of senior-level county staff members who work with county agencies and partner organizations to better coordinate resources in responding to emergencies. Members of the committee represent the county's public safety agencies and other departments, the county school system, Fairfax Water, and other county and regional organizations such as George Mason University and Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Griffin created an executive board of the committee, which meets regularly to discuss homeland security issues and serves as the homeland security leadership team.

* The Emergency Management Grants Coordinating Committee meets monthly to coordinate emergency preparedness and response grants. One such award was $12 million to provide equipment for the emergency operations center, obtain sophisticated command and communications equipment, improve public safety radio coverage and purchase specialized gear for first responders.

* The Homeland Security Interagency Task Force reviews and coordinates equipment, procedures, technical information, planning, training and exercises related to homeland security.

* The Citizen Corps Council includes programs for county resident volunteers, such as the county's Neighborhood Watch, Volunteers in Police Service, Medical Reserve Corps of health professionals and Community Emergency Response Team of trained volunteers, to assist fire and rescue workers in their neighborhoods during an emergency.

* The Alternate Emergency Operations Center at the county Government Center is where senior officials direct the county's response to an emergency. It is called the "alternate" center because a new, permanent command center is scheduled to be built in 2007.

The alternate center has been used for exercises and training since it opened in September 2004. It was the site of a regional joint information center during a false anthrax incident in March at the Skyline office complex. And it served as the regional planning hub for the Northern Virginia teams deployed to the Gulf Coast after the recent hurricanes.

The center receives pictures from cameras monitoring roadways throughout Northern Virginia, the District and Maryland. It also has access to weather data and images, as well as telephone and video briefings from the National Weather Service.

* County agencies have developed emergency response teams, appointed an emergency response coordinator and written emergency response plans for all county work sites, focusing on the first 10 minutes of an emergency.

* Since Sept. 11, 2001, Fairfax County has created several positions specific to homeland security issues, including an emergency information officer within the Office of Public Affairs, an emergency planner and epidemiologist in the Health Department, a battalion chief for emergency preparedness in the Fire and Rescue Department and a fire department employee responsible for planning training exercises.

* The county has established a watch officer position, a single contact for Fairfax County. The officer coordinates messages, monitors information sources and oversees distribution of free Community Emergency Alert Network messages to the public by e-mail, cell phone and pager. To sign up, go to


* The county has created a policy for securing its computers that includes mandatory training. Major investments have been made in the public safety radio system, the fiber-optics network, the emergency alert network, information security systems and geographic information systems, or GIS.

Training for an Emergency

* Exercises and training are key parts of the county's readiness efforts. In the last year, the Alternate Emergency Operations Center has been used more than 130 times for county, state or federal training sessions and agency meetings related to emergency preparedness and homeland security. The Police Department has held more than 200 training courses related to emergency preparedness since Sept. 11, 2001.

* One of the most recent large-scale exercises was the "Patriot Challenge 05" exercise in June that simulated a suicide bombing at the Patriot Center at George Mason University.

Senior officials would direct the county's response to a disaster from the Alternate Emergency Operations Center, above. A large-scale training exercise there in early June simulated a suicide bombing at the Patriot Center at George Mason University.