With Hurricane Season 2018 beginning on June 1, HSToday’s Editor at Large Rich Cooper reached out to some of the Mid-Atlantic region’s leading emergency managers to ask, “What will your emergency management team do differently this year to prepare for Hurricane Season 2017?”
FEMA REGION III
“The 2017 Hurricane Season reminded us that we must prepare for catastrophic hurricanes. The National Level Exercise tested new crisis planning in debris removal, mass care, shelter operations, and communications. We embedded with our states to test field capabilities and integration with partners. It empowered us in working with all of our states – Delaware, Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia – as well as other federal agencies and businesses, to ensure our region is prepared for the 2018 Hurricane Season.
We are building a culture of preparedness, readying the nation for catastrophic disasters, and reducing the complexity of our agency to help individuals and communities receive federal assistance more quickly. We cannot do it alone – we need individuals and communities to prepare for potential emergencies. Whether it’s knowing your evacuation zone, purchasing flood insurance, or simply having an emergency plan, it takes all of us to be ready.”
Regional Administrator, FEMA Region III
“It has been years since Delaware has seen a major storm. Despite this, as emergency managers we realize that we need to remain vigilant and steadfast. Complacency amongst our citizens remains one of our leading concerns. We persist in our efforts to provide outreach and education across the state to keep others aware of the ever-present dangers. We continue to lean forward when monitoring storms and keeping our partner agencies informed and engaged.
We have also focused on enhancing our mass care capabilities. I am happy to say our partners have redeveloped our mass care initiatives. Over the last three years we have rebuilt and tested our abilities to provide shelter, food, and medical care for those in need while placing a renewed emphasis on individuals with access and functional needs and pets.
Working with our partners and the whole community will ensure that Delaware is hurricane-ready.”
Director, Delaware Emergency Management Agency
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
“Participating in a National Level Exercise reminds us about the importance of never staying comfortable. We must challenge each other to implement new ideas and uncover solutions to address the complex challenges in emergency response. Our agency is developing specialized and locally tailored trainings for our staff and partners to provide a comprehensive, strategic understanding of emergency management in the District.
We need to focus training on minimizing an emergency’s impact and ensure the District recovers as quickly as possible. In the short term, we’re also improving how we package and process incident information to make it more digestible and easier to access.”
Director, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency
“We will be rolling out the Know Your Zone Campaign in 2018. Our outreach efforts will be focused on achieving the campaign’s goal, which is for every Marylander to know his/her hurricane evacuation zone. This year we also participated in the National Level Exercise, ‘Atlantic Fury,’ in early May. Since Maryland has not experienced a direct hit from a catastrophic hurricane, scenarios such as this helped us identify current gaps in planning and capabilities.
For the 2018 hurricane season, and in order to more efficiently support our local jurisdictions, our managers will be spending more time creatively thinking, problem solving, and planning jointly with federal and state government partners, nonprofits, and the private sector. We will also be increasing our direct outreach with the private sector, particularly chambers of commerce and small businesses, as we continue to improve our comprehensive emergency management system focused on disaster-risk reduction and consequence management.”
Executive Director, Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)
“Based on the unprecedented magnitude of the hurricanes in 2017, we plan for when, not if. No single agency can prepare, respond and recover. It takes pulling together the skill sets and resources of all of our partners from local responders and volunteers to businesses. We are working toward strengthening the Private Sector Integration Program to make sure our businesses get back to business when disaster strikes. Pennsylvania welcomed over 3,000 survivors from Puerto Rico after the hurricanes last fall. Long after the winds died down, we remained – and still remain – very active working with FEMA and our local partners to assist survivors.
We are strengthening our paths of communication from our federal partners to the community level so we are able to consistently learn of challenges and needs and be able to communicate solutions and resources.”
Director, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA)
“The NLE [National Level Exercise] provided a unique opportunity for states to train and exercise various components of their operation plans and procedures. It allowed all levels of government to interact via real-world circumstances that are not always available through state- and local-level exercises.
West Virginia often experiences severe flooding as a result of hurricanes that impact the Mid-Atlantic coast or that come up from southern states. The 2018 NLE allowed West Virginia to test new alert procedures for activating its Emergency Operations Center as well as its new facility that places the State Emergency Operations Center physically alongside the Joint Operations Center of the West Virginia National Guard.
The event also allowed us to test our capabilities to utilize the EMAC [Emergency Management System Compact] system, and to engage agency partners in the process as we look at ways we can enhance our national capacity utilizing state-to-state mutual aid. We are very appreciative of the opportunity to participate to help us prepare to respond more quickly, efficiently and effectively when an event occurs.”
Director/Homeland Security Advisor, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
“Virginia launched the single largest change to our state hurricane and evacuation plans in decades just in time for 2017 hurricane season. Virginia’s new tiered evacuation plan that simplified the former confusing and logistically impossible web of dozens of local and state evacuation zones for 23 coastal Virginia localities was rolled out June 1 of last year. In 2018 we will have opportunity to more thoroughly educate the public, refine the plan and integrate lessons learned from the National Level Exercise to better implement the tiered evacuation concept. We will continue to educate citizens about their need to ‘Know Your Zone’ and listen for important instructions when a hurricane approaches Virginia. We were able to raise awareness of the new tiered evacuation zones from zero to 30 percent in 2017, as confirmed in independent studies conducted after our rollout of the new zones. We plan to invest this year in making even more of the 1.25 million residents in the zone areas aware of how this lifesaving tiered evacuation plan will reduce congestion, speed evacuation, and move those most at risk from individual storm tracks and intensity to safer, higher ground.”
State Coordinator for Emergency Management, Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM)