June 7, 2024

Message from County Executive Marc Elrich

Dear Friends,

Earlier this week, Montgomery County got quite the surprise with Wednesday’s tornadoes in Poolesville and Gaithersburg, and the threat of tornadoes in Montgomery Village, Olney and elsewhere across the region. The storm put our County to the test.

Thankfully, no fatalities were reported, but at least eight people were displaced by falling trees and many people were impacted by debris or power outages.

Our emergency response teams, along with National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists and the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS) staff, conducted several assessments in Gaithersburg and other affected areas. They will use the information they gather to try to better predict storms in the future.

I extend my thanks to our emergency crews who responded swiftly Wednesday night. Our 911 dispatchers ensured that help reached those in need quickly and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service firefighters jumped into action, in one case saving five people trapped inside a home. Over a span of 2 ½ hours, we responded to 35 storm-related calls, including five trees down on homes and 10 downed wires. Our Department of Transportation managed several road closures and helped the City of Gaithersburg’s Department of Public Works as it cleared those roads quickly.

Some residents have wondered why they didn’t not get an alert notice in advance. Below is an explanation of the alert systems that may help explain the process. Two emergency alerting systems are utilized in Montgomery County: Alert Montgomery and the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, a federally managed nationwide alert system.

Alert Montgomery requires that you register and provide a home address. The home address, not your current location, becomes the basis for how you receive alerts. For most Alert Montgomery Alerts, we have a person who reviews information and determines what geographic area is alerted, but, because of the sudden nature of things like tornado warnings, the County does not have a chance to review the language or alter who is alerted because of how time-sensitive the information is.

The geographic range for the National Weather Service-driven alerts are determined by the NWS polygons defined in their warning. If you are a few miles outside their range, you likely will not receive the alert.

The WEA system does not require registration and is not linked to a home address. Unless you have opted out on your phone, anyone connected to a cell tower selected by NWS (or any other authorized sender) will receive a loud, unmistakable tone. That alarm has nothing to do with Alert Montgomery.

Both work off the same goal, to keep you informed of essential information to help keep you safe. Please do not opt out of emergency notifications on your phone because they can alert you to potentially deadly weather bearing down on you.

As we continue cleanup efforts, I urge everyone to prioritize safety. Avoid downed wires following storms and assume any downed power line is energized and dangerous. Keep children and pets away until the work is complete. For live wires that are arcing, call 911. Once you are in a safe location, report downed wires to authorities using the police non-emergency phone number 301-279-8000—not by calling 911. You can also report downed trees and create a service request through the County’s Storm Operation Center online.

Wednesday night’s weather was unusual, but it highlighted how quickly conditions can become dangerous. Because of climate change, we cannot assume that the weather will be the way it was in the past. Please sign up to receive critical information directly to your devices. You can also visit OEMHS online to sign up for Alert Montgomery and find steps to help with emergency preparedness. Please, then heed the weather warnings you receive. We are facing more frequent and severe extreme weather events and so taking appropriate precautions becomes all the more important.

Watch the weekly media briefing here for more about signing up for the right alerts and a post-storm discussion with County leaders.

Summer Storm Preparedness

Due to climate change, the County now experiences more frequent and intense summer storms. These storms can bring heavy rain, strong winds or lightning, leading to flooding and other safety threats. Preparing for these emergencies is crucial to ensure the safety and well-being of our community.

By creating an emergency plan, assembling a preparedness kit for sheltering in place and for on the go, securing your home, staying informed and knowing how to respond during and after a storm, you can minimize the risks and ensure a safer storm season. We have established individual web pages to help you prepare for different types of summer storms and hazards, including what to do before, during and after a storm.

A downloadable Emergency Kit Checklist is available here.

I urge you to educate yourself and your family about how to recognize signs of extreme temperatures and to check on elderly friends, relatives and neighbors who may be isolated in times of extreme heat.

You can find more resources on emergency planning on the Montgomery County OEMHS website and on ready.gov.

Pride Month Begins

June is Pride Month, and before I left for California, I helped raise the Pride Flag in Downtown Silver Spring. The flag raising preceded a community celebration organized by Montgomery County Pride and Live in Your Truth.

Montgomery County values inclusivity and equality, and we celebrate Pride to show that everyone has a place here. Discrimination has impacted the LGBTQ community for far too long. In the past, and sometimes still today, people have denied their value. By shutting any group out, we deny ourselves the opportunity to gain from their contributions to society.

I want to encourage more people to be an ally to the LGBTQ community by showing up and supporting events, art and community gatherings celebrating Pride Month. Here is a list of some events and initiatives either in, or put on by, Montgomery County:
The MCDOT “Ride With Pride” bus will be taking riders back and forth from the Silver Spring Transit Center to the venue – the wrapped bus with lights can be seen all over the County during the month of June.

Metro Red Line Construction

This week we also saw the start of Metro’s Red Line construction that will be part of construction needed for the future Purple Line. The Glenmont, Wheaton, Forest Glen and Silver Spring Metrorail stations will remain closed for maintenance through Aug. 31. The Takoma Park station will be closed until June 29. A spokesperson for Metro said this work, which normally would take eight months, will be expedited because the stations are closed. You can watch that conversation from this week’s media briefing here.

Free shuttle buses are replacing trains between Glenmont and Fort Totten. While those shuttle buses are being used, one red-painted lane along Georgia Avenue will be dedicated for bus use between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. Bus-only lanes are a tactical way to alleviate congestion on the road. They also improve safety, give bus riders a better experience and help them reach their destination faster.

I want to urge drivers to avoid using the seven miles of red-painted road, especially for parking. Metro Police are monitoring these lanes and tickets issued will cost drivers a point on their license and a fine.

I look forward to seeing the impact that bus-only lanes will have along Georgia Avenue because it is a key component of true Bus Rapid Transit, which we are trying to expand into other parts of the County besides U.S. 29.

Currently, a pilot program for dedicated bus lanes is underway on University Boulevard. MCDOT engineers are evaluating how effective the University bus lanes are based on criteria including travel speeds, crash data, on-time performance of bus routes and public input. A final decision on keeping bus-only lanes along University Boulevard or expanding them throughout the Ride On system is not expected until Spring 2025.

As for this summer, MCDOT is sharing alternative routes for those who want to avoid the Red Line corridor as much as possible, including taking advantage of discounts on MARC Trains. Here is a link to those suggestions.

Gun Violence Awareness Month

June is also “Gun Violence Awareness Month.” On Saturday, June 8, I hope you will join me and other concerned parents and community leaders in Wheaton for a community walk to mark “National Gun Violence Awareness Day.” That walk will be held at Wheaton Regional Park starting at 11 a.m. You can sign up here.

State laws have been relatively effective at keeping guns inaccessible to most youth, and yet, it remains too easy for young people to get guns and use them to settle disagreements. This needs to change.

Montgomery County is committed to addressing this issue through community engagement, mentorship programs and evidence-based practices like violence interrupters. We rely on community partners and County facilities to run programs like the Summer of Peace Initiative that focuses on developing constructive activities and partnering youth with positive role models. Activities can be found through Montgomery County Recreation, Montgomery Parks and the Montgomery County Police Foundation, just to name a few.

I hope that these programs help instill the value of life skills and give participants hope for the future. As a teacher many years ago, I saw too many young people who felt they had nothing to lose and no hope for the future. We cannot allow that mindset to take hold because there are enough struggles for youth to deal with.

Our Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and MCPD are working to be part of the solution. We are investing in technology that allows police officers to be more efficient and effective in responding to gun violence. We are financially supporting crime analysts to track crime patterns and weapons data. The information is used to generate violent crime reports to make policing more efficient as we try to catch up on the officer shortage within MCPD. The County also is using DHHS resources to partner with police to coordinate efforts like the Street Outreach Network. The County is committed to delivering wraparound services like trauma recovery, to address the root causes of violence.

Donation to help Historic Scotland Church

Good news this week for the effort to restore the Scotland African Methodist Episcopal AME Zion Church. The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation has announced a $1 million donation to help rebuild the historic Black church that was nearly destroyed. This donation was part of the second century project efforts Donate – Scotland (scotlandamezion.org) to help rebuild the historic the Scotland African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church. The church in Potomac was built by hand and opened in 1924, and it is registered as a State Historic Site by the Maryland Historical Trust. In the 1980s, Montgomery County re-routed Seven Locks Road around and several feet above the church, which meant that the church was hit with more water during heavy storms. The church was nearly destroyed by a flood in the summer of 2019 and has suffered subsequent damage due to intense tropical storms over the past few years. These storms damaged the foundation of the church, which meant the congregation could no longer use the building. A substantial rebuild is needed to allow the church to be used, and the 2nd Century Project is raising the funds necessary. Donations toward the project can be made at. Donate – Scotland (scotlandamezion.org). The funds will be used to repair the church, safeguard it against floods, and expand it to serve the future needs of the congregation and the wider community.

Last year, to support the fundraising, the County helped the community launch the “Scotland Juneteenth Heritage Festival.” Here is a video of my comments from the festival's announcement. The five-day festival is returning this year beginning June 15, including the first Juneteenth fireworks show. You can visit juneteenthscotland.org for details, and I will also update you in next week’s letter.

‘Augmented Reality Experiences’ to be Unveiled at Oakley Cabin African American Museum

The Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park “Augmented Reality (AR) experiences” will be ready for the public starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 8, at the park in Brookeville. The Oakley Cabin will have the first augmented reality experiences created for any historical site in Maryland and will usher in a game-changing way for people to use 21st-century technology to experience 19th-century historical sites.

The cabin and park are located at 3610 Brookeville Road in Brookeville.

The Montgomery County Department of Technology and Enterprise Business Solutions (TEBS) XR Montgomery program worked with Montgomery Parks and the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation's Historic Preservation Program to create the AR experiences, which overlay digital elements over real-world backgrounds.

Visitors will be able to use their mobile phones to see digital recreations of the community of freed Black tenants who lived at Oakley Cabin in the reconstruction period after Maryland emancipation in 1864. Visitors can use manipulatable 3D models to explore digital scans of the interior of the cabin, to interactively place elements of daily life in the exterior of the cabin, and to recreate a third cabin in the community for which only a foundation exists today.

I got a chance to preview this technology this winter, which you can read about in this newsletter. It is a great way for more people to connect to and learn about the history of the cabin.

The AR experiences are accessible in seven languages: English, Spanish, Amharic, French, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. Text is available for the hearing impaired. Some experiences will allow those with physical limitations to virtually see the interior of the two-story cabin.

2024 Landlord Handbook Now Online

Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs has information available online that will help everyone understand the landlord/tenant relationship.

The Landlord-Tenant Handbook explains the laws regarding the Landlord-Tenant relationship and highlights recent changes to the law that directly affect it. By law, a landlord must provide each tenant a hard copy of the handbook upon signing a lease. A tenant can reject it, but one must be offered.

The online handbook is available in French, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish and Vietnamese. Updates to the handbook will include the rent stabilization law and information about the program once the legislation takes effect.

Silver Spring Generosity

I want to congratulate and thank the residents of Silver Spring for continuing to show that this is a supportive community. GoFundMe has named Silver Spring one of the “Most Generous” communities in the U.S., ranking it third-best in the nation when considering the number of donations per capita in cities with populations greater than 50,000 people.

In 2023, Silver Spring residents donated $47 million through 500,000 donations, supporting causes both locally and beyond.

To celebrate, on Saturday, June 8, GoFundMe will host a booth at the Downtown Silver Spring Farmers Market at Veteran’s Plaza with a photo booth, treats from local businesses and free items.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive