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Flash Flooding Impacts Arlington County, VA

On the morning of July 8, flash floods caused dangerous public safety conditions in Northern Virginia. Within just one hour, Arlington County received 4.5 inches of rain, the equivalent of one month’s worth of rainfall. Floodwaters converged and caused Four Mile Run, which flows through the County and into the Potomac River, to rise more than 11 feet. The severe weather and flash flooding prompted County Manager Mark Schwartz to issue a local emergency declaration.

Although flooding had receded in most areas by the afternoon, the excess water caused substantial damage to commercial, public, and residential properties throughout the County. Arlington initially found it difficult to identify the areas that were most severely affected due to the large number of flooded neighborhoods. Additionally, flooding primarily occurred in the basements of structures, which made it difficult for assessors to rely on visual inspection to determine the structures that were affected. As a result, the County found that it was essential to reach out to the public to help identify damages.

Flash Flooding in Arlington County, Virginia
Screenshot of the Arlington County, Virginia real-time EOC Map for Flash Flooding.

Resident Self-Reporting Process Provides Big Help in Identifying Damages

The following morning, Arlington County Emergency Management contacted Crisis Track to quickly implement the damage assessment software’s Resident Self-Reporting feature. This feature provides counties with a short web page form that allows residents to self-report and describe the extent of damage to structures. Arlington was able to efficiently disseminate its Resident Self-Reporting URL link to residents through local news sources and the County website. This outreach led to over 1,100 residents completing self-reporting forms and helped Emergency Management triage the most significantly impacted areas.

Screenshot of the Arlington County, Virginia Resident Self-Reporting form.

Within a three-hour timeframe, the Arlington County Emergency Management staff received training on performing damage assessments with the Crisis Track mobile application and sent volunteers to conduct field assessments. When a volunteer completed an assessment or a resident submitted the online self-reporting form, the information was visible in real-time on a map in the EOC and on all field team Crisis Track mobile apps. Emergency Management staff in the EOC tracked the progress of the Damage Assessment teams and the distribution and cost of damage in real-time.

Road to Recovery

In the aftermath, flood damage estimates for public property stood at $5.8 million. The damage assessments conducted as a result of the resident reporting revealed nearly $10 million in residential damages and over $950,000 in losses to commercial property. On July 31, Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam requested a disaster declaration from the Small Business Administration (SBA). The information collected from the assessments allowed Arlington County to work with the State of Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and the SBA to inspect 26 commercial and residential properties that were identified as having major damage. After inspections were completed, a local recovery center was opened, and the SBA awarded more than $1.7 million in disaster loans to help residential and commercial owners with repair costs.

Because of the number of flooded basements in Arlington County’s July 2019 weather event, quick windshield surveys typically used for initial damage assessment proved ineffective. With this information gap, resident self-reporting proved critical in more accurately assessing the distribution and costs of Arlington County’s flood damage. Crisis Track provided real-time data flow: from online resident self-reports and field team damage assessments on mobile applications to the damage distribution maps and cost reports in the EOC. The timeliness and accuracy of these damage assessments helped Arlington County residents get disaster assistance when they needed it the most.

Graph of Residential and Commerical damage in Arlington County, Virginia from 2019 Flash Flooding