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How Safe is Loudoun County?

County Prepares for the Worst

Five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Loudoun County administrators have teamed up to open lines of communication and increase security.

County Administrator Kirby Bowers has worked to increase communication between local businesses, organizations and government officials.

"We are better prepared to address terrorist attacks today than we were then," he said.

Loudoun County has always been prepared for extreme weather conditions, but now, it is prepared for any kind of emergency, Bowers said, "as a county and as a region."

IN AN EFFORT to spread the word on emergency preparedness, Bowers teamed up with Health Department director Dr. David Goodfriend to lead education talks on a series of topics. The Health Department is the leading agency that provides emergency support to the county, he said.

Goodfriend led the most recent public service meeting Aug. 10 at the Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building in Ashburn.

In the event of a pandemic flu, which Goodfriend said we are due for, the doctor informed residents on what to do and how to prepare for it. At the summit, Goodfriend stressed the importance of an emergency preparedness kit. Every resident should make one, he said, with a two-week’s supply of water and nonperishable foods, such as canned meats, fruits, vegetables and soups, protein bars, peanut butter, crackers and an extra supply of prescription medication.

"The summit not only taught residents how to prepare for a pandemic flu, but how to prepare for an emergency in general," Goodfriend said.

In addition to educational talks, the Health Department also holds response exercises for the county. On Oct. 21, the Health Department will create a pandemic flu emergency. During the pandemic flu response exercise, Goodfriend and a slew of volunteers will see how many residents they can vaccinate as quickly as possible, at Heritage High School in Leesburg.

BEFORE SEPT. 11, 2001, Bowers said it wasn’t easy to get in touch with heads of businesses and organizations in the event of an emergency. Now, Bowers meets with Goodfriend and other department heads, business owners and members of local organizations once a month to discuss emergency preparedness plans.

In the event of a disaster, the county activates the Reverse 911 system, a phone program that allows county officials to leave voice messages on all telephones in the area. For example, if there is flooding in eastern Loudoun, Bowers can leave a message to residents in that area to seek higher grand.

The Office of Emergency Preparedness also provides Loudoun County residents with a Citizen Alert System. The county uses the Roam Secure Alert Network, a program, which allows government officials to send messages to registered users to send alerts to residents via e-mail, cell phone, pager or smart phone and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants).

LOUDOUN COUNTY Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard said the school system enhanced security measures before 9-11. After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, administrators installed video cameras in all Loudoun County public schools, a "Shelter in Place" policy and increased the number of emergency drills during a school year.

If a dangerous airborne agent were released in the community and posed a threat to students during the school day, school administrators would be directed to shut down the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and close and secure the school, Byard said. No students would be allowed to leave the building. During a "Shelter in Place," no one would be allowed to enter or exit the building. Loudoun County Public Schools would communicate to parents through public radio and television.

"We stepped it up," he said. "We are now more prepared for an emergency than we were before Columbine and Sept. 11."

In addition, the public school system increased communication with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Leesburg Police Department.