VACo Recognizes Three Innovative Arlington Programs

Published on August 01, 2016

  • Environmental, business and emergency response efforts awarded

  • Programs cited as statewide models

  • 91 applicants 

Three innovative Arlington programs have been recognized by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) as statewide models.

Arlington's "Active Shooter Response: Run, Hide, Fight" program was a finalist for VACo's 2016 Best Achievement Award. The County's restoration of a rare and fragile magnolia bog and its StartupArlington technology startup competition received Achievement Awards. A panel of judges selected 29 programs from 91 submitted for consideration.

"This is welcome recognition that Arlington County is innovative in many fields," Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. "Each of the three programs recognized by VACo addresses issues that are important not only to our County, but across the state and across the nation: emergency response; environmental restoration and protection, and economic development."

Innovation: Run, Hide Fight program

Working together, Arlington's Office of Emergency Management and Police Department developed an active shooter response program for the public that is empowering rather than frightening. The program builds on initiatives put in place by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. The County has trained more than 1,500 people — including County staff, business partners, faith-based organizations and other groups — since launching the program in July 2014.

The three-phase program uses a non-threatening approach to teach people how to respond to active shooter situations  by improving security, learning proper response and evaluating their training.

RunHideFight logo

"Unfortunately, active shooter events are a reality in the United States," said William Flagler, deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management. "Jurisdictions across the country have devoted funding and other resources to developing law enforcement and other first responder capabilities to deal with these situations. We realized that the general public also needed training.

"We believe that all our residents should know how to react if faced with an active shooter," Flagler said. "We have worked to make this training as accessible and available as fire drills — because the actions taken in the first few minutes are critical."

Innovation: Restoring a magnolia bog in an urban setting

Tucked away behind Barcroft Park in south Arlington, just steps from baseball fields, picnic areas and tennis courts, lies a globally-rare ecosystem. Arlington's magnolia bog is one of only two-dozen known in the world. It is a priceless fragment of Arlington's all but vanished natural landscape. It gets its name from the sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) that grow there.

Magnolia bogs are wetlands. They are closely associated with terrace gravel forests made up of soils deposited millions of years ago by the Potomac River. Unlike the peat bog, water infiltration and leaching leaves the Magnolia bog's soils acidic and free of  organic materials.

Arlington's 25-acre magnolia bog is fragile. Nearby development, changes in the water table, invasive plants and other environmental stressors have all taken a toll.

In 2011, the County's Department of Parks and Recreation developed a 5-year restoration plan to save the bog. County staff partnered with volunteer groups, including Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, Earth Sangha, Virginia Native Plant Society and others, to get the job done.

[caption id="attachment_8953" align="alignright" width="300"]Restored wetland. Restored wetland.[/caption]

Volunteers and County staff inventoried the bog's plants; uprooted invasive plants; built a vernal pool, and planted native plants.  They found about a dozen types of plants that grow nowhere else in Arlington. Today, the bog and its surrounding buffer area is nearly 90 percent free of invasive plants. Long lost animals and plants are returning. Spring peeper tree frogs, wood frogs, gray fox, yellow-crowned night-herons, little wood satyr butterflies, and  rare plants are thriving.

"This is a real success story for our County," said Jane Rudolph, director of Parks and Recreation. "The bog is home to wetlands, natural forest and more locally rare plants than any other site in the County. We want it to be here for generations of Arlingtonians to enjoy."

In 2010, the County Board designated the site a Natural Resource Conservation Area.

Innovation: Startup Arlington

StartupArlington is just one creative way Arlington Economic Development (AED) is responding to the challenge of the County's historically high office vacancy rate.

To fight the perception of the County as a "government town," AED worked with partners in real estate, hospitality, transportation and other fields to develop the nationwide "Startup Arlington" competition. Tech companies were asked to pitch for the chance to live and work in Arlington free of charge for three months.

Startup Arlington logo

The winning company received free space in a local co-working office. The company's founders were given three months free lodging at a nearby extended stay hotel, and such perks as complimentary Metrorail and Capital Bikeshare passes and a gym membership. The winners also received free legal advice and mentoring to get their new business off to the right start.

"This was a relatively low-cost way to attract interested companies from across the nation to pitch to us, and to see what it would really be like to live and work in Arlington," AED Director Victor Hoskins said.  "Some 78 companies from 14 states and 13 different tech industries applied. We were able to cultivate several leads of companies as they grow to the point of needing commercial space — and we intend to assist with that growth."

Applicants were judged by a  panel of County government employees and officials, Arlington entrepreneurs and local business leaders. Montana-based Oppleo, a cyber security company, won. The founders relocated to Arlington in November 2015 and the company is still in the area.

About VACo

The Virginia Association of Counties advocates for counties through policy analysis and lobbying activities in the legislative or regulatory process. The organization supports the Commonwealth's 95 counties.