Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Food Safety During Prolonged Power Outage

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman today urged residents who remain without power to take steps to ensure that food left in the refrigerator and freezer is safe.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be refrigerated at 40° F and frozen food at or below 0° F, which may be difficult with a prolonged power outage.

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. A refrigerator will only keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened.
  • A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Obtain dry ice or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if there is a prolonged power outage. Residents should check with local retailers for ice supplies.
  • Digital, dial or instant-read thermometers and appliance thermometers will help determine if the food is at safe temperatures. The refrigerator temperature should be at 40°F or below; the freezer, 0°or lower.
  • To be sure a particular food is cold enough; take its temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety!
  • Food may be safely refrozen if the food still contains ice crystal or is at 40°F or below. Evaluate each food item separately. Be sure to discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
  • Food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, soft cheeses, butter and leftover cooked meats, casseroles and pizza should be thrown out if they have been held above 40° F for over two hours.

    For a complete chart and when to save and when to throw out certain foods, please visit the USDA’s food safety website.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kudos to Drivers

I want to give a shout-out to all the drivers on Montgomery County roadways today. I’ve been to many areas of the County, beginning very early this morning. Drivers have acted responsibly and courteously. Without fail, I’ve seen drivers treat major intersections as four-way stops when the signals are out and yield right of way to others who are waiting. Keep up the good work, drivers.

What Does "Tornado Warning" Mean?

In light of yesterday’s tornado warning, I want to remind everyone exactly what that means. It is not to be confused with a tornado watch.

A tornado warning means that a tornado may be imminent. It can be issued after either a tornado or funnel cloud has already been spotted, or if there are radar indications that a tornado may be possible.

During a tornado warning, you should seek shelter immediately. The safest place to be during a tornado is in a basement. If no basement is available, seek shelter on the lowest floor in a hallway or closet. Use blankets or pillows to cover your body and always stay away from windows.

Evacuate mobile homes and vehicles immediately. Do not use highway overpasses as shelters. If no shelter is available, lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

Do not wait to hear or see this tornado before you take action. Tornadoes that form at night and those that are rain wrapped may not be visible.

If you want to receive alerts about emergency weather conditions or other local developments, sign up for Alert Montgomery.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Council Approves Creation of Business Development Corporation

We unanimously approved Bill 28-10 that establishes a Business Development Corporation (BDC) that could provide the County with strategic planning and advice, legislative and regulatory advocacy and evaluation of County government’s economic development performance. The group also can join the County Executive and Department of Economic Development in attempting to persuade specific businesses to move to or stay in the County. I am proud to have sponsored this bill which evolved from my pledge to make economic development the top priority during my term as Council President.

The nation, and the Washington region, are currently in an economic era unprecedented in our lifetimes. Throughout this downturn, Montgomery County has remained one of the nation’s economic engines, and we have to send out the word that we are open for business. It is one thing for government to send that message, but when we team with some of the nation’s, and the world’s, top companies to roll out the welcome mat, it becomes quite an inspiring invitation. That is what we are creating with the Business Development Corporation.

The redrafted bill authorizes the Council to designate a quasi-public, nonprofit corporation that is not an instrumentality of the County to act as the County’s local management board.

The designated corporation’s board of directors, which will not be appointed by the County, will be made up of 11 voting members, including a Chamber of Commerce representative, a small business owner, an owner or manager of a medium sized business and up to eight senior managers of major companies in the County. The board also will include, as non-voting ex-officio members, the director of the Department of Economic Development, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, the president of Montgomery College and either the Planning Board chair or the planning director.

Business leaders themselves will create a proposed BDC that follows the provisions of Bill 28-10. It is conceivable that more than one BDC will be organized. If that occurs, the County Council will select one BDC.

The redrafted bill also provided that members of the board will not be County officials or employees and will not be subject to the County’s Ethics Law. The corporation’s bylaws will regulate conflicts of interest by board members and staff. The board’s meetings will be required to comply with the state Open Meetings Law. This approach is similar to that of the Bethesda Urban District Corporation.

Through the BDC, we are going to be paying attention to the business community on how to handle important issues. I am not going to tell this group what to do. I am going to listen to what it recommends.

The bill received strong support from business leaders who pledged to be involved in the Business Development Corporation to attract businesses of various interests and sizes to join them in Montgomery County.

“There are reasons of many kinds that Montgomery County is a premiere place for major corporations to locate,” said Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Debbie Marriott Harrison of Marriott International, whose international headquarters is located in Bethesda. “We are all stronger when we have more businesses nearby. We are pledging our support of the BDC because the County government and the private businesses located in this County are in position to be a powerful team in developing business in Montgomery. Like the other major businesses committed to the goals of the BDC, we are here to help.”

Discovery Communications, whose headquarters is in Silver Spring, also has pledged its support to the BDC.

“Discovery’s impact as the cornerstone of Silver Spring’s revitalization, along with the ongoing efforts of the nearly 2,000 employees working and living in the County to give back to the local community, are examples of the vital role that large employers can play in building vibrant and diverse communities and ensuring a healthy and growing economy for Montgomery County,” said Joe LaSala, general counsel for Discovery Communications. “Discovery applauds the efforts of Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen in introducing this bill to develop a vision for the County’s economic future and to ensure that we have a business-friendly environment that can attract industry leaders to Montgomery County.”

I hope the corporation will be officially designated before the start of the next state legislative session that begins in December. The group is expected to issue its first report within a year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Montgomery County Snapshot

Did you know that 29 percent of Montgomery County’s 971,600 residents have earned an advanced degree, placing us highest among large counties nationwide in educational attainment? Or that 38 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home? Or that the Gross County Product—total earnings of all industries in the County—is about $43 billion annually? Learn more interesting facts in M-NCPPC’s Montgomery County Snapshot.

Farm Tour and Harvest Sale

This weekend Montgomery County will celebrate its agricultural heritage, promote local farms, and provide residents the opportunity to indulge in seasonally fresh fruit during the 21st Annual Farm Tour and Harvest Sale. Fourteen farms will participate this year on Saturday July 24 and ten will reopen for a second day on Sunday July 25. The farms will be open to visitors from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shaken not Stirred

Our Fire Chief has posted some interesting earthquake information on his blog. Chief Bowers says, "I am assuming that the events of this morning may have left a few of you out there a bit “shaken.” Bad joke aside, I want to provide all of you out there some good information from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) web site so that you can take steps to prepare and handle any future tremors that may occur. For more information go to: http://mcfrs.blogspot.com/2010/07/earthquake-faqs.html

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Participating in U.S. Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Reauthorization Event

I look forward to participating in a panel discussion held by the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., on the reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program.

The July 14 meeting is part of a series of sessions across the country designed to bring together federal, state and local officials, as well as transportation providers, users, and other stakeholders, to discuss the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization.

On the panel, I will represent the National Association of Counties (NACO), where I serves as vice-chair for transit. The discussion is entitled “The Needs of State, Local and Tribal Governments” and will focus on the surface transportation program’s importance to local governments, particularly as it affects planning, programming and the ability of counties to respond to transportation needs. We need all hands on deck to move our transportation agenda forward, so I’m glad to be a part of these important conversations.

Several projects planned for Montgomery County by the Maryland Department of Transportation cannot proceed to construction due to a current lack of federal funding. They include the Purple Line; the Corridor Cities Transitway; the widening of the western portion of the Beltway (I-495) over the American Legion Bridge; and the addition of reversible high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on I-270. This year, the County Council decided to use local dollars to fund one such project—a $60 million segment of the Montrose Parkway.

I will present NACO’s view that congestion in metropolitan areas is the single most important issue in American transportation today. On behalf of the organization, I will advocate for federal funding for projects such as those in Montgomery County and also for a congestion management program and streamlined processes.

Montgomery is Top Digital County

Montgomery County is number one, according to the Center for Digital Government which just posted the results of the 2010 Digital Counties Survey. The ranking takes into account not just information technology alone, but also how use of the technology benefits the organization and its citizens. That includes cost effectiveness and ease of use—both high priorities as we strive to do more with less. Check out the article.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

County Retains Triple-A Bond Rating

We learned today that Montgomery County has retained its Triple-A bond rating from Moody’s, coming off a “watch list” from that agency in April that reflected concern over falling County revenues. Moody’s rating moved Montgomery County to a “stable outlook” category.

The Triple-A bond rating allows Montgomery County to issue bonds for its capital borrowing at the most favorable rates, saving County taxpayers millions of dollars a year. The County had already received Triple-A Stable ratings from the other two bond rating agencies, Fitch and S&P, on $325 million of General Obligation bonds it is issuing tomorrow, July 8th.

I was pleased to join the County Executive and Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg at today’s announcement and celebration of a real team effort. We responded quickly to changed forecasts, adjusted projections, and made structural changes to build a better fiscal future. At my urging, the Council adopted a requirement for a six-year fiscal plan that will contribute enormously to our future success. Today's announcement is welcome news indeed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

See You There

I hope to see you this Fourth of July weekend. I plan to participate in a number of community celebrations, starting with the Takoma Park parade at 10 a.m. on the Fourth. Then I will go to the Woodacres parade at 11 a.m., followed by the Town of Chevy Chase parade and celebration (where I’ll read from the Declaration of Independence) and the Town of Sommerset picnic in the afternoon. Then I’ll go to the Friendship Heights celebration at 3 p.m. and finally to the fireworks at Einstein High School. On Monday the fifth, I’ll participate in the Leisure World and Montgomery Village parades.

If you plan to celebrate at any of these events, please say hello. I’ll be traveling with my trusty assistant, Lady (my schnoodle—that’s half schnauzer, half poodle). Whether I see you or not, I hope you have a great holiday weekend.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Report on June Traffic Signal Failure

The Director of the Department of Transportation has provided us with an incident report briefing on the traffic signal problems that occurred on the morning of June 29. The good news is that this incident was not directly related to the failure that we experienced in November 2009 in which the signal computer failed. I've reprinted the report her.


July 1, 2010

TO: Nancy Floreen, President
Montgomery County Council

FROM: Arthur C. Holmes, Jr., Director
Department of Transportation

RE: June 29, 2010 Incident with the County’s Traffic Signal System

The purpose of this memorandum is to provide an incident report briefing with respect to the problems with the County’s traffic signal system that occurred on the morning of June 29, 2010.

At 7:01 AM on the subject date, a fire alarm went off in the traffic signal computer room on the 11th floor of the Executive Office Building (EOB). Fire personnel were on scene by 7:05 AM, and Facilities Maintenance personnel responded by 7:08 AM. At the same time, technicians in the Traffic Management Center (TMC) realized that the traffic signal system stopped operating, and began dispatching personnel to the EOB and the lane control systems on Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue (to manually implement those systems to coincide with static signing that directs drivers to use the AM inbound lane configurations).

By approximately 7:10 AM, the response team had completed their emergency response assessment and had confirmed that there was no fire or smoke in the room. However, as a result of the alarm, all electrical power to the room was automatically shut down and water was confirmed to be pooling under the computer room’s raised floor. The computer room is designed so that when certain critical alarms are activated, such as a smoke detector, the electrical power (both house and emergency power) is immediately and automatically shut down as a failsafe to prevent catastrophic damage to critical equipment. This shut down of the electrical power caused the traffic signal system computer to immediately power down (analogous to pulling the electrical cord from one’s PC from a power outlet).

Facilities Maintenance personnel then began an assessment of the building support systems in the computer room and on the 11th Floor of the EOB and had determined that the source of the water was the dedicated air conditioning (AC) unit. Specifically, the water leak was caused by a failure of the AC unit’s condensation pump. Work immediately commenced to clean up the water, while technicians began troubleshooting the AC unit to stop and repair the leak. Once the leak was stopped, the remaining water was cleaned up and action taken to dry the floor and electrical systems as quickly as possible so that electrical power could be safely restored. Power was restored to the computer room at approximately 9:10 AM, and the signal system was powered back up and all traffic signals in the field were restored to central control by 9:20 AM. In fact, the signal system was restored to operation before the faulty AC unit was fully repaired. Facilities personnel continued working on the AC unit until it was back in service about an hour after the signal computer was restored to operation.

While the traffic signal system was inoperative between 7:00 AM and 9:20 AM, all signalized intersections in the County operated on color, and there were no safety hazards to motorists or pedestrians. The signals operated using their local intersection programming, but there were no coordinated cycle lengths or synchronization that is controlled from the central computer. Traffic management technicians were monitoring traffic flow around the County using the traffic surveillance cameras and our aerial observation capabilities. Using that information, traffic signal technicians were dispatched to selected intersections to manually adjust local signal timings in an attempt to mitigate isolated congestion issues. In general, traffic volumes were lighter than a typical weekday morning commute due to the summer period, although the US 29 corridor was experiencing heavier than usual traffic volumes due to an accident on I-95 in Howard County that caused traffic to divert to US 29.

I want to assure you that the June 29 problem was not a repeat of or directly related to the failure that we experienced in November 2009. The traffic signal computer did not fail. As described above, the issue was related to the building support systems. I have been in communication with David Dise, Director of the Department of General Services, and we will be working cooperatively to assess these support systems and undertake actions as appropriate to minimize the possibility of similar problems. It should be noted that all responding departments (Fire & Rescue, General Services, Police – including both EOB Security and at the ECC) responded as quickly as possible and the incident was handled swiftly and professionally. This situation could not have been resolved more quickly without endangering the very computer equipment the fire suppression system is designed to protect.

On a closing note, I am happy to report to you that not all of the approximately 800 signalized intersections in the County were affected by this issue. Approximately 50 intersections have been converted to the new traffic signal system, and those locations operated without incident or issue. We remain on schedule and within budget to convert all of the remaining signalized intersections to the new system and deactivate the existing system by the summer of 2012.

Please feel free to contact me or Emil Wolanin, Chief of our Traffic Engineering & Operations Division should you have any questions or need additional information.

Arthur Holmes, Jr., Director
Department of Transportation
Montgomery County, Maryland

Mandatory Water Restrictions

See the press release from WSSC about mandatory water restrictions for all WSSC customers.

LAUREL – July 1, 2010: To ensure continued water supply for all WSSC customers and for fire protection and hospital/medical uses, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) General Manager Jerry N. Johnson today called for mandatory water restrictions for all WSSC customers. The goal is to reduce water usage by about one-third. The restrictions take effect immediately and are expected to last at least four days.

The mandatory restrictions are necessary after monitoring technology indicated a failing section of a 96-inch water main located near the corner of Tuckerman Lane and Gainsborough Road in Potomac in Montgomery County. “This technology, an acoustic fiber optic monitoring system, detected the problem, allowing us to take preventative measures now,” says Johnson. “This proves the system works and helped us to prevent what could have been a much more serious situation. “ The fiber optics system was installed in the pipe three years ago and will eventually be installed in all of WSSC’s large water mains. The process to repair the pipe has already begun and will continue around-the-clock until complete. Until that time it is imperative that customers:

· Stop all outside water use – no watering lawns, no washing cars, no topping off swimming pools
· Use water only as necessary
· Limit flushing toilets (do not flush after every use)
· Limit using washing machines and dishwashers (wash full loads only)

WSSC has been working with fire departments from both counties to make sure there is adequate fire protection, especially considering that this weekend is the 4th of July and there will likely be numerous fireworks displays. “We know this is a burden, especially on this holiday weekend. But if everyone can be vigilant and cut their water use by a third, we’ll be ok,” said Johnson. "We appreciate everyone's understanding, patience and cooperation while we work through this."

WSSC will notify customers once repairs are complete and mandatory restrictions are no longer necessary.

For additional information log on to the WSSC website at
www.wsscwater.com or call the WSSC Call Center at 301.206.4002.