McAuliffe announces improvements to Commonwealth hurricane preparedness

virginia-newGovernor Terry McAuliffe released a report Thursday outlining improvements to Virginia’s hurricane preparedness plan, including an adjustment to the evacuation decision-making timeline.

The hurricane in-season review, led by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia Department of Transportation, focused on five critical areas: coordination and information-sharing between state and local emergency officials, evacuation of impacted areas, sheltering evacuees, assistance to those with access and functional needs or without transportation, and communicating with the public.

“Building a New Virginia Economy begins with having the plan and the infrastructure in place to keep our families, communities and businesses safe in an emergency like a hurricane,” said Governor McAuliffe. “This review demonstrates that we have many strengths when it comes to hurricane preparedness, but also a number of challenges that we must meet head on.

“My administration will enact the recommendations of this report to strengthen our response plan so that we can get localities, first responders and Virginia families the tools they need to respond to an emergency and get back to their lives as soon as possible.”

The revised hurricane evacuation decision-making timeline includes the following key actions prior to the onset of tropical storm force winds (39-73 mph):

  • -96 hours – Initiate deployment of state resources for evacuation activities
  • -72 hours – Recommend first call by the governor with chief local elected officials concerning evacuation plans and activities (previously occurred at the -48 hour mark)
  • -48 hours – Recommend start of mandatory evacuation for a Category 3 hurricane (previously occurred at the -38 hours mark)

“While this change may provide up to an additional 12 hours for deciding evacuation issues, it depends on a clearly defined storm track and intensity analysis several days before landfall,” said Virginia Department of Emergency Management State Coordinator Jeff Stern. “Last July, Hurricane Arthur rapidly increased from a tropical storm to a Category 2 hurricane only 14 hours prior to landfall in North Carolina, which would have left little time to evacuate a large coastal population like Hampton Roads prior to the storm’s arrival if one had been needed.”

Last May, the Governor directed cabinet secretaries and state agencies responsible for carrying out a hurricane evacuation to work with their local and federal partners to identify potential short- and long-term improvements to existing plans. The following are some of the key findings of the in-season review:

  • Coordination and information-sharing between state and local emergency officials has been inconsistent. Identified areas for improvement include standardization of conference calls, use of technology for information exchange, deployment of liaison officers in local emergency operations centers and continued development of a regional approach to disasters in Hampton Roads.
  • A mass evacuation of Hampton Roads may not be necessary if areas at risk are prioritized and communicated to the public early. This allows those in higher-risk areas enough time to get to a safe location.
  • Virginia and the Hampton Roads region should emphasize focused evacuations. New information technology will enable better planning for the most critical areas.
  • The reversal of lanes on Interstate 64 is an evacuation tool of last resort and is reserved for the most catastrophic storms.
  • Future transportation projects should consider capacity improvements to facilitate evacuations.
  • Additional shelter capacity is needed for those seeking refuge within the Hampton Roads region that is capable of withstanding storm winds.
  • Building codes have not adequately addressed the requirements for storm wind protection.
  • Plans are in place to contract with bus services to evacuate individuals with access and functional needs and those without transportation, but these efforts are fragmented between different jurisdictions and levels of government.
  • Progress has been made to communicate regional preparedness information to the public through Ready Hampton Roads, but a more robust public messaging effort will be needed as changes are made to evacuation planning and sheltering, and also when communicating with summer tourists.
  • Future state exercises should focus on how local, state and federal partners respond after the disaster; addressing issues such as intermediate and long-term housing, economic recovery, infrastructure rebuilding and communications.

 

A full copy of the in-season hurricane review report can be found at www.vaemergency.gov.



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