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Office of Emergency Management
Office of Emergency Management FAQs

 Office of Emergency Management FAQs

Click on the question to view its answer. If you have a question that is not on the list call us at 703-792-6800 or send an email to

Special Situations

Be Informed-County Planning

Declarations and Legal Information



In the event of a community or national emergency, an evacuation, or a shelter-in-place order, parents should check the local media and local school system cable stations, hot lines, and websites for announcements about changes in school openings and closings. Prince William County Public Schools offer an e-mail notification system to alert parents immediately of changes in school schedules. Generally, unless evacuation of a particular school is ordered, students will be kept at school until school officials can safely transport them home. Because the best place for children during a regional crisis may be at school, parents are discouraged from going to school to pick up their children. If a parent does go to a school, he or she should be prepared to present the identification required by the school system—usually a photo ID.
Note that if a school is ordered to provide shelter-in-place—to protect the safety of the children—no one will be allowed into or out of the school building until the danger is passed. In that event, parents for their own safety should also remain indoors. Relying on the schools to transport students home on normal bus routes will help avoid gridlock in and around schools and will help keep roads clear for essential emergency vehicles. If buses are severely delayed, schools may ask parents to help by picking up their children. Parents should check the local media and school news outlets regularly for announcements about school decisions.
Emergency planning is for all members of the family including pets. With the exception of service animals, shelters may not accept pets. Prepare a list of kennels, friends or family members who may be able to care for your pet in an emergency. If you plan to place your pet in a kennel make sure that the facility meets all requirements for long-term care and has an adequate disaster plan itself. If your family must relocate to a shelter or other site and there is no place for your pet to go, as a last resort confine your pet to a specific room in the house and provide plenty of food and water to sustain the animal while you are away. Put together a basic disaster kit for your pets to take with you in case you must leave your residence quickly. Recommended items include: 
  • An airline-approved carrier for each dog, cat or other pet;
  • ID with photo vaccination records, registrations, special needs list, sufficient medicines, collar and a muzzle/leash;
  • An extra supply of pet food;
  • Plenty of clean water; and
  • Bowls (disposable containers if you must leave your residence), manual can opener, kitchen trash bags, bleach (as a disinfectant and water purification), blankets, towels, paper towels and other waste disposal supplies.
More information on emergency preparedness for pets is available at VDEM or the Humane Society of the United States 202-452-1100.
During storms and other emergency events check to see how your relatives and neighbors are coping - especially senior citizens and persons with disabilities. If possible, help them plan in advance or locate resources to assist them. Contact the Department of Social Services at 703-792-6500 for information on services available for the elderly and residents with disabilities.
If you need special assistance, establish relationships with nearby neighbors before an emergency or disaster happens. Ask nearby family or neighbors you trust to check on you during a disaster. Keep in touch with your family and neighbors and look out for each other by:
  • Sharing your emergency contact and medical information with your apartment building management or condo association.
  • Giving your emergency contact and medical information to your neighbors and family.
  • Creating a contact list of your neighbors’ information.
  • Arranging for someone to check on you.
  • Teaching those who may need to assist you in an emergency how to operate necessary equipment. Be sure they will be able to reach you.
  • Planning ahead with your home health care agency for emergency procedures if you have home health care services.
  • Notifying local police fire and rescue responders of special needs or mobility issues.

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Prince William County has identified buildings throughout the County that can be used for mass sheltering but does not have a permanent shelter facility. When there is a need to establish a shelter the County will open a facility that is appropriate to the needs of the situation. Listen to local media and be prepared to follow all instructions.
Local officials may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your community. If you are told to evacuate it is important to stay calm, listen to local media reports carefully and follow all instructions. Local officials will provide information about where shelters have been established. If you’re sure you have time, call your family contact to tell them where you are going and when you expect to arrive. If you are evacuating from your home, shut off water and electricity but leave natural gas ON unless local officials advise you otherwise. Only a professional can restore gas service once it’s turned off and this could take weeks in a disaster situation. If you must choose quickly what to take with you grab these things and go: medical supplies; disaster supplies (flashlight batteries radio first-aid kit and bottled water); a change of clothes; sleeping bag or bedroll and pillow for each family member; and car and house keys.
If you plan to travel by car become familiar now with alternate travel routes you can use to avoid congested main arteries in the event of an emergency. Remember it is against the law to drive on the shoulder. Shoulders are reserved for police fire and rescue vehicles.
All-news radio stations such as WTOP (1500 AM/107.7 FM) and WMAL (630 AM) provide 24/7 traffic information.
Carry a winter survival kit in your vehicle. Suitable items include blankets, flashlight, shovel, jumper cables, road salt or kitty litter, flares or reflective triangles, local road maps and high-calorie food like granola bars and juice.
Consider keeping an old cell phone and a power cord in each of your cars. Even if the phone does not have a service provider it should still be able to dial 911.
Your first priority is to focus on what you need to do to protect yourself and your family. Here are some other things to do:
  • Plan to be away from home for at least three days. 
  • Determine your evacuation route to your designated evacuation center. 
  • Stay tuned to your radio or television station for further instructions.

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In many cases you are better off staying where you are rather than evacuating to another location. You should stay where you are if you are not in imminent danger from the event or its consequences. If a large number of people try to leave an area all at once traffic will soon back up and even come to a standstill. Being stuck in traffic while danger still threatens may put you at greater risk for your safety than staying in your home or other substantial structure. Listen to your radio for directions about what to do. Pay close attention to hear information about what to do in your immediate area. Authorities may call for a 'phased evacuation' moving those at greatest risk of loss of life and injury to safety first. 
Residents should sign up to receive emergency notifications through PWCAN, the County's free electronic emergency notification system. While every attempt is made to communicate local information through a variety of media sources, information specific to Prince William County is not always reported in its entirety or correctly. Residents may get information about Prince William County government through the County website (, The Prince William Channel/Comcast Cable Channel 23/Verizon Channel 37 or the County's 24-hour automated phone system PWC-INFO (703-792-4636).
Yes, the County has an Emergency Operations Plan. Click to view the Fact Sheet: Prince William County's Emergency Operations Plan.
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) enables the president to address the American people directly in the event of a national emergency. The system gives the president access to thousands of broadcast stations, cable systems and participating satellite programmers to transmit a message to the public. The EAS and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), have never been activated for this purpose. However, for the past 40 years state and local emergency announcements have been transmitted through the system. Your local System EAS radio or television station will be a primary source of information and instructions. Remember that an emergency may affect each area differently. You will receive specific instructions on what to do in your area.  
In Prince William County WTOP (1500 AM/107.7 FM) is the primary broadcaster of EAS alerts.
The National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) replaces the former color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System that had been in place since 2002. This new system will communicate information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, airports and other transportation hubs, and the private sector.
When there is credible information about a threat, an NTAS Alert will be shared with the public. It may include specific information, if available, about the nature of the threat, including the geographic region, mode of transportation, or critical infrastructure potentially affected by the threat, as well as steps that individuals and communities can take to protect themselves and help prevent, mitigate or respond to the threat.
The advisory will clearly indicate whether the threat is Elevated, if there is no specific information about the timing or location, or Imminent, if there is reason to believe the threat is impending or very soon.  Advisories will be posted on the Department of Homeland Security Web site and pushed out widely through social and mainstream media. Go to for more information and to see the most recent advisories.

What does a state of emergency mean?
A state of emergency declaration authorizes the governor to speed state agency assistance and resources to localities following a manmade or natural disaster. Typically in Virginia declarations may cover hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, winter storms, earthquakes or a terrorist incident.
In general, the governor issues a declaration when the emergency exceeds the ability of the locality to respond effectively. In turn, when a disaster exceeds the Commonwealth's resources the governor seeks federal assistance through the Department of Homeland Security.
When does the governor act?
The governor declares a state of emergency when he believes a disaster has occurred or may be imminent. The situation has to be severe enough to require state aid to supplement local resources in preventing or alleviating damages, loss, hardship or suffering.
What happens after the governor declares an emergency?
Acting on behalf of the governor, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management uses the resources and assets of appropriate state agencies to provide immediate assistance. Typically Virginia State Police, the National Guard and the Virginia Department of Transportation are called in. Other agencies may include the department of Health, Agriculture, Corrections, and Environmental Quality.
What guides government agencies under a declaration?
After the governor issues the declaration the Virginia Department of Emergency Management puts its Emergency Operations Plan into effect to coordinate and direct state response and recovery resources.
The declaration also streamlines purchasing and procurement requirements to speed aid and resources to needed areas. Covered may be costs for rescue, evacuation, shelter, heating, fuel, food and clothing. Resources also are available to quell disturbances.


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