Arlington will review response to 1st boil water advisory in 26 years

How well did Arlington County in Virginia think it handled the water main break that triggered a boil water advisory for more than 100,000 customers in the county and parts of Northwest D.C.?

Pretty well, it seems.

The county will be conducting an “after action review” of the response to last Friday’s water main break and the subsequent advisory.

The last time Arlington issued a boil water advisory was in late 1993, for a suspected Cryptosporidium risk that also included Falls Church and D.C.

“Someone was commenting this morning, as we were talking about it, it’s the first [boil water advisory] this millennium that we’ve had,” said Greg Emanuel, director of the Arlington Department of Environmental Services. “So we think we handled it well.”

The break in the 36-inch transmission line could have been problematic for fire services in high-density corridors with tall buildings, and for police working to ensure emergency services could still get around to secure heavily damaged Glebe Road.

Police and fire services were engaged right away, Emanuel said.

“For something that starts in the middle of the night, it was about 3:15 in the morning, and by 6:15 in the morning, everything had been secured on the massive water line, under extremely high pressure,” he said.

Arlington also needed to coordinate and communicate with the Washington Aqueduct and DC Water.

In D.C., residents received the alert on their cellphones, similar to how they would learn about an Amber Alert or a tornado warning. In Arlington, however, residents learned about the advisory another way.

“Any and all communication methods are valid,” Emanuel said. “We like to give people the options that work for them. So we’re always going to hit as many different avenues as we can.”

Arlington sent notice through social media, shared the advisory with news outlets, posted it on the county website and sent it out to people registered with Arlington Alert.

“It’s always good for people to sign up for the Arlington Alert because that gives us the opportunity to do Reverse 911 calls and so forth, and they did that,” Emanuel said.

To let people know whether their specific address was included in the boil water advisory, Emanuel said a map that was put out quickly was soon supplemented by something more interactive. Arlington put out an address-searchable map, and it had about 34,000 views Friday morning before the server crashed.

“We kind of overwhelmed that server pretty quickly, so that’s one of the lessons learned. But a great lesson to have nonetheless,” Emanuel said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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