Frank J. Principi is the Woodbridge District Supervisor for Prince William County, a post he has held since 2008. At the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), Principi serves as a member of the Board of Directors and as Chairman of the National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council. Principi served as the chair of the COG Board of Directors for 2012.
What brought you to the Metropolitan Washington region?
I originally interned on Capitol Hill while attending UCLA. After getting Potomac Fever and graduating in 1984, I moved here to live on the water, start a family, and open a small business. Here I am more than 30 years later!
How did you get involved with public service?
I grew up in a family with a strong sense of public service. My aunts and uncles were either running for office or in office in local and state government, and it rubbed off on me! I was approached by the incumbent Woodbridge Supervisor in 2006 and asked to run when she retired in 2007. I am walking proof that you need to be careful what you ask for!
What do you think are the region’s biggest challenges?
Like any metropolitan region, we have our share of challenges and we are dealing with them both as individual jurisdictions and together as a region.
What is unique about the National Capital Region is that we are experiencing a major impact resulting from a fundamental shift in the role of the federal government in American lives. As a result, the federal government is reducing its workforce, shrinking its spending, causing automatic, across the board spending cuts called sequestration, and the federal government has even closed its doors, unexpectedly!
All of this contributes to the uncertainty in our lives, our businesses, and our economy. This represents a very significant challenge given the past several decades where the federal government has been the lifeblood of this region and its economy.
In addition, our region shares a lot of the same challenges as other regions across the country traffic congestion, affordable housing, and a sluggish economy/slow job growth.
How does the region work together to address these challenges?
All of these challenges are very serious and threaten our quality of life, jeopardize our regional and our national economy, and threaten national security. Our region comes together in many different ways and through many different organizations. COG is the premiere way that we come together to address our regional challenges.
Just the other day, COG convened a meeting with representatives from around the region to continue our efforts to develop a regional strategic plan to help set emergency preparedness and homeland security investment priorities. Last month, the Transportation Planning Board came together at COG to decide our regional pedestrian and bicycle safety initiatives. Over the last couple of months, the firefighters from around the region have come together at COG to work with WMATA, the governing body of Metrorail, to improve radio communications and training standards in the system.
How does Prince William County benefit from its participation at COG?
Prince William benefits from the networking and discussions that takes place between elected officials and our professional staff. We benefit from the published reports that describe best practices, lessons learned, and new ideas. The county also benefits from several hundred thousand dollars of grant funds that we receive from COG annually which we would not otherwise receive. Grant funding received from COG helps Prince William hold down our tax rate and improves the health and safety of our residents and businesses.
Is there a COG project or initiative on which you’ve collaborated that makes you most proud?
One project I contributed to was the 2012 publication of the report, Economy Forward. The report provided a five-point plan to get the region’s economy back on track through improved coordination with the federal government, strong town centers or activity centers, a better prepared workforce for jobs in our high growth industries, greater investment in our transportation infrastructure, and a new regional brand and image that better reflects the innovation and assets of the region.
One of the recommendations that elected leaders have really supported is the list of activity centers-I call them town centers. There are about 120 on the list and they are a way to broaden our tax base, reduce traffic, and bring new jobs to the region.
Another important element of the five-point plan is the agreement to focus on workforce development. If we are going to accommodate the jobs of tomorrow and the jobs we want to bring here, then we need to have a skilled and educated workforce for existing and future employers. COG has done a lot of work in educating its members. In Prince William, we are opening a 50,000 square foot Workforce Development Center designed to educate adults in the region’s most in-demand jobs, including information technology and cybersecurity.
You chair the Emergency Preparedness Council, what are some of the issues or initiatives that the Council is taking on this year?
The EPC brings together many different emergency management and homeland security experts from all over D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. These leaders establish the preparedness priorities in the public, private, and non-profit sectors and are responsible for the continuous improvements that are occurring in our readiness efforts.
The EPC this year is focused on expanding the region’s capacity to address bomb threats, the deployment of license plate readers, improvements in interoperable communications (sharing of voice, video, and data between response teams at an incident), maintenance/replacement of personal protective equipment for first responders, and a plan to respond to a cyber attack. So, it is a wide range of projects being worked on by some or all of the 22 member jurisdictions in the region. In addition, we are also developing our strategic plan priorities and investment needs for the region’s future.
Recent surveys show that the region’s residents understand the need for emergency preparedness, but often don’t take action to prepare themselves. How can regional leaders move residents to take steps to be prepared?
This is an area that has our attention and will continue to be worked on this year and in the years to come. The EPC needs to do a much better job of ensuring that individuals and families across the region stay informed during a disaster, follow emergency instructions, have a family plan, and ensure they have needed food and supplies (including prescription medications). We will continue to focus on this area so that families can take care of themselves and their companion pets for a full 72 hours following a disaster. Residents can sign up for free text alerts from their county/city at www.CapitAlert.gov a download an app from FEMA on their smart phone to help with preparations.