F.C. Council in Extraordinary Telephone Meeting Ratifies Declaration of Emergency

For perhaps the first time in the 50-plus year history of the City of Falls Church, an official meeting of the Falls Church City Council was convened by telephone conference call this afternoon at 5:45 p.m. EST.

The purpose of the call was to ratify the state of emergency declared by Mayor Robin Gardner in the face of one of the heaviest snowstorms in Virginia state history, and the Council passed the resolution, 6-0 (with Vice Mayor Hal Lippman still out of the country).

During the 25-minute call, Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester briefed the Council on the state of the City’s emergency efforts in response to the snow, which commenced Friday night about 7 p.m. and was still underway at the time of the call. She said that there were no injuries or power outages reported in the City, that the City still has sufficient resources of materials and personnel to addess the situation, but that shelter and search team capabilities remain on standby in the event conditions worsen before the snow is slated to subside later tonight or early Sunday. The City’s emergency homeless shelter opened at 5 p.m. today, she said.

Appropriate City staff, including police, was called into duty at 9 p.m. last night, she said, and began treating and plowing emergency road routes, especially Routes 29 and 7 and Great Falls St.), and that some treatment of high hill roads, such as Poplar Drive, as well. The first shift of City workers was relieved by a second shift at 10 a.m. this morning, and was afforded a five-hour break, with personnel resting in local motels. “It has been a struggle to keep ahead of the storm,” she said, noting that conditions are far worse in others parts of Virginia, taxing VDOT’s capabilities to the maximum.

Mester said that plowing of secondary streets is expected to begin later tonight, and sidewalks adjacent government and school buildings tomorrow. Some dealing with private plowing contractors has been necessary, she said, due to their dumping snow from private shopping center and other parking lots into public streets. Police have had to deal with only one minor trafffic accident, she said.

She said the City staff involved in the effort “will be very appreciative to hear” of the Council’s expressions of thanks and support that attended the call.
The extraordinary conference call meeting is permitted under state law when conditions exist to make it unsafe or otherwise unadvisable to convene a usual meeting when the matter involves the ratification of a declaration of emergency. The action permits the City to seek state reimbursement, given Gov. Kaine’s declaration of a statewide emergency, if needed, as well as to call in assistance from out of the City if required. It also sanctions the towing of disabled cars out of emergency routes, and the ability of police to limit action on accidents to exchanges of basic information and clearing of the roads.

Mester said that she was slated to contact the heads of major City departments involved in dealing with the storm for updates and further evaluations at 7 p.m. tonight.