Last week’s prisoner escape from INOVA Fairfax Hospital was a reminder that emergency situations can arise without notice, reinforcing that advance planning and preparation are crucial to personal and community safety. When the prisoner overwhelmed the armed private security personnel responsible for guarding him, the hospital’s emergency plans were activated. The police department’s emergency response wasn’t a drill this time (before the new South Tower was opened for patient care, the police department conducted emergency exercises there), and officer teams were deployed to neighborhoods where the prisoner had been spotted. In an abundance of caution when an armed shooter is loose, some roads in the area of the hospital were shut down for a time, causing consternation, and some anger, from commuters just trying to get to work.
Much of the chase happened right here in Mason District, as the prisoner carjacked two vehicles and made his way, apparently, to I-395 and into the District of Columbia, where he was spotted by an alert citizen and quickly arrested. The whole episode lasted about eight hours. Some constituents asked why there was such heavy police response for just one person. Having observed occasional barricade situations and other local emergencies, I explain that the police response also is focused on keeping the surrounding community and residents safe. Police often have to establish a perimeter, communicate with nearby residents about what is going on, and keep bystanders and gawkers away. At the same time, other officers are concentrated on the perpetrator, who may be armed with a lethal weapon. All want a peaceful ending, not a shoot-out. As one police officer told me during the hunt for the escaped prisoner, “this is a safe community, and we intend to keep it that way.”
Keeping our community safe is a shared responsibility between first responders and property owners/tenants. Police and Fire & Rescue can respond to a 911 call, but there are some simple steps we can take to avoid that 911 call or, at least, be better prepared in a natural or human-caused emergency. Locking your car in the driveway or a parking lot puts your vehicle off limits for a potential break-in or theft, at home, at work, at the grocery store, etc. Although many vehicle doors lock automatically after the ignition is turned on, drivers of older vehicles may wish to double-check or manually lock the doors once belted in. In last week’s event, the escaped prisoner hid in the trunk of one car, and carjacked another vehicle as it was being driven. Locking the doors, including the trunk or rear lift, is a good practice.
A first aid kit, bottled water, a blanket, flashlight and fresh batteries, and some non-perishable snacks are basics for an emergency kit in your car. More tips are available on line at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/emergency. Make a kit, make a plan, and keep at least a half tank of fuel at all times. The winter snow emergencies are history, but hurricane season isn’t far off. Emergencies can happen any time; preparation is the key.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.