June 29, 2012 Derecho Storm Report


On Friday, June 29, at approximately 10 p.m., a severe thunderstorm (derecho) hit Fairfax County. Within one hour the County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated at a monitoring level. Activities were coordinated with public safety, the 9-1-1 Center and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to determine needs and to support the response. Additional agencies were contacted overnight – including the Park Authority, Risk Management, Facilities Management, Public Schools (FCPS), Building Inspector, Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES), among others – and put on alert about the potential for damage.

At 4 a.m. on Saturday, June 30, the EOC was deactivated since there were no indications of massive phone or massive power outage; all public safety and VDOT needs had been met and Dominion Virginia Power was reporting approximately 20,000 meters out of service at the time. Public safety agencies were also back to a normal response activity.

Once daylight arrived and damage began being reported, the EOC was re-activated at 9:30 a.m. Almost all communications were affected, including 9-1-1 service. The media was notified about the issues with 9-1-1 service and to direct all emergencies to public safety stations. Power outages were over 230,000 across the county or approximately 55 percent of the county’s meters. 

During the duration of the recovery efforts, the EOC was staffed 24/7 from Saturday, June 30, through 8 p.m. Monday, July 2. The EOC was operational on Tuesday, July 3, staffing a 12-hour operational period, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; 11 a.m. to midnight on Wednesday, July 4; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 5; and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, July 6. The OEM duty officer provided monitoring and actions as needed during the overnight hours when the EOC was not activated.

On Saturday, June 30, over 50 Fairfax County Public School sites were without power; over 120 traffic intersections were without power; several public safety facilities were without electricity, including fire stations in Annandale, Lorton and Great Falls and the Reston and McLean Police Stations. During the height of the storm the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department had deployed approximately 78 percent of its resources.

The County has 63 wastewater pumping stations. Of these, 40 stations lost power on June 30. The pumping stations have multiple pumps within each station, anywhere from two to four actual pumps per station. If the power is out, all pumps shut off until the diesel generator (at each station) kicks in and pumping resumes. All 63 wastewater pumping stations lost SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system communications during this storm, which is how County personnel can remotely monitor the wastewater pumping station operations.

On Saturday, June 30, at 11 a.m., both a local emergency declaration and a Virginia state of emergency were declared. Governor Robert (Bob) F. McDonnell and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova attended an operational briefing in the EOC. Also attending were Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker and Secretary of Health and Human Services William A. Hazel Jr., MD. Following the briefing, the Governor and Chairman conducted a media briefing in the lobby of the McConnell Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center (MPSTOC) facility to get the word to the media, for distribution to the public, about the situation.

In addition to extreme power outages throughout Fairfax County and the National Capital Region and high heat, the Falls Church Water Utilityissued a boil water advisory late on Saturday, June 30, advising water customers in portions of Tysons Corner, Vienna, Dunn Loring and Merrifield to use boiled tap water or bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes as a safety precaution; customers were advised not to drink tap water without boiling it first. There were no issues or boil water advisory needed for Fairfax Water.

For the event (June 29-July 6), there were four reported deaths in Fairfax County (two fatalities from the storm; the additional two were patients transported to Fairfax hospitals from outside our jurisdiction). There has been one heat-related death in Fairfax County according to the Virginia Department of Health. At this time it is unknown if this is related to the storm (reporting period began June 20). The Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has also reported that since June 20, there have been 10 heat-related fatalities statewide.

Cooling Opportunities

All County facilities that had electricity were open normal hours and available as cooling opportunities for residents and visitors. Because of the widespread power outage, many County facilities unfortunately were without electricity during the early stages of the event. The County published flyers about the facilities that were open over the weekend and offering heat relief options. These flyers were distributed to the police and fire stations to give to residents showing up at these facilities, as well as published online, through social media and promoted to the media.

Fairfax County Animal Control was also on stand-by for calls from County facilities if residents came to those facilities with their pets; Animal Control was staffed to take those pets to the Animal Shelter for heat relief.

Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, McLean, opened Tuesday, July 3, to provide a cool spot for residents. The church discontinued its heat relief operations at 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 5. Other non-county sponsored locations were also opened during the event to provide relief to residents, as well as cooling opportunities in several Board of Supervisors’ Districts.

Public Communications

Fairfax County public information staff used multiple methods to communicate to residents, including the emergency information blog (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/emergency/blog); Community Emergency Alert Network (CEAN) messages – email, pager, cellphone – to residents; Emergency Alert Network (EAN) messages to employees (unscheduled leave, etc.); emergency information hotline updates; employee information line messages; and media outreach. Another major outreach tool was social media, especially helpful reaching residents without electricity, utilizing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, allowing residents to access these messages on smartphones, tablets, etc.

A special information and referral line was also created on Thursday, July 4, and staffed from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. in case residents needed any information about the derecho, power outages, heat and fireworks.

Special Medical Needs Outreach

Volunteer Fairfax representatives in the EOC made phone calls to everyone registered on the County’s Special Medical Needs Registry to see if any access or functional needs were identified; calls were started on Saturday, June 30, and continued daily through Tuesday, July 3. There were 161 registrants that were called over three days: 33 on day 1 (Monday), 118 on day 2 (Tuesday night) and the remaining 10 on Wednesday morning. Contact included direct connection or leaving messages on answering machines (an indication that power and phone services had been restored).

In addition, approximately 90 human service groups, Volunteers Active in Disasters (VOAD), nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, etc. were on two conference calls on Tuesday, July 3, to address human service needs. These needs were met through their regular supply cache and services that they typically provide. No supplemental supplies were needed. The only food pantry that asked for more food was Lorton Community Action Center because their food had spoiled; Capital Area Food Bank met that request.

While the Fire and Rescue Department had done windshield surveys early in the event, Fire and Rescue personnel also conducted walkabouts through Wednesday, July 4, in the hardest hit areas of the County. These areas were mapped by Geographic Information Systems (GIS), compiled with County fire district boundaries/fire box data and overlaying power outages as reported by Dominion Virginia Power.

Key Highlights

  • Provided ongoing dispatch services by 9-1-1 personnel despite telephone issues; no loss of life due to 9-1-1 phone service outage as the Department of Public Safety Communications (DPSC) continued to dispatch resources and public safety agencies continued to respond.
  • Prioritized critical infrastructure needs by EOC staff in conjunction with Dominion Virginia Power and the County’s Facilities Management Department.
  • Sent situational updates to the Board of Supervisors and the senior management team every two to three hours.
  • Briefed the Board Chairman, Governor of Virginia, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and the Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources during the first operational period. A press conference was held in the lobby of MPSTOC. 
  • Contacted all members listed in the County’s Medical Needs Registry that were affected (mapped by GIS) by the power outage.
  • Moved summer camps and SACC programs to accommodate the lack of power in some school/park locations.
  • Monitored all health care facilities (hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers and others) in the County to ensure the impacts of the storm were addressed. 
  • Provided general and emergency information to the public through constant messaging to the community. In addition, internal communications was key as county staff were kept informed of county status; agencies also did numerous communications within the agency as well as across other county agencies to coordinate service delivery.
  • Updated state and regional partners through WebEOC.
  • Organized the damage assessment survey and continued to organize public safety agencies to check on at-risk populations and areas of concentrated power outages.
  • Coordinated with Volunteer Fairfax to determine needs in the communities and provided assistance where required.
  • Coordinated and organized a list of all Fairfax County facilities and their status throughout the event.
  • Coordinated with DPWES on debris removal and assistance to VDOT.
  • Coordinated with GIS to provide and post online a map of the affected boil water zone in Fairfax County.
  • Worked with the Department of Vehicle Services to provide emergency fuel for generator sites at County facilities. One mid-rise residential condominium also was provided an emergency supply of fuel so that 60 residents in assisted living would not have to be displaced.
  • Coordinated school status with the FCPS EOC.
  • Supported the courts with their buildings and status.
  • Coordinated with the Police Department on streets/intersections closed by debris or affected by loss of electricity. Coordinated with VDOT, Virginia State Police and the County’s Office of Public Affairs to provide information concerning traffic to residents.
  • Several residents at County shelters that were closed due to power outages were provided alternative overnight accommodations.
  • Coordinated with towns of Herndon and Vienna; Fairfax County is responsible for the emergency management role for these two jurisdictions (as outlined by the County’s Emergency Operations Plan). VDEM, amateur radio emergency services, VDOT, Virginia State Police and other partners were involved in EOC operations.
  • All wastewater pump stations remained operational through the use of emergency generator power. All generators were filled with fuel and checked prior to the storm event as standard practice in preparations.
  • Noman Cole Jr. Pollution Control Plant remained operational despite losing one of the two power feeds (second feed was partially impacted but remained hot).
  • Despite loss of communication, the I-66, I-95 and Newington Solid Waste facilities remained operational and responded with debris clearing support Saturday morning and were prepared to accept storm debris at our disposal sites.
  • Solid Waste brush total for I-95 and I-66 was 4,000 tons from Saturday morning after the storm through this past Sunday.

Next Steps

  • The Office of Emergency Management will conduct a complete after-incident report, bringing in County agencies, partner agencies and external partners.
  • The Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Information Technology have been working and beta testing an online damage disaster database, a reporting tool for residents to report damages. Given the June 29 storm, OEM and DIT staff fast-tracked the project. The database is live and will be promoted this week for residents to report derecho damage.
  • Investigate opportunities for improved communications.

Presentation to the Board of Supervisors

Derecho Storm Response
View more presentations from Fairfax County




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