All tunnels and bridges lead somewhere. In Southeastern Virginia’s Hampton Roads area they serve as critical routes for commuters, vacationers, and in case of emergencies like a hurricane, potential evacuation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) joined together August 30 – 31, 2018 to tour Hampton Roads’ major tunnels and discuss their importance for emergency response. This opportunity allowed emergency managers and transportation officials to discuss resilience actions in place, begin a dialogue for what may be needed in the event of a hurricane or flooding, develop courses of action for potential support to the tunnels, and fully understand potential impacts on emergency preparation and response activities.
Tunnel and bridge operators in Virginia have taken multiple steps to ensure the infrastructure is secure and resilient to potential incidents. VDOT owns four tunnels in the region – the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel (I-664), the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (I-64); the Downtown Tunnel (I-264), and the Midtown Tunnel (Rt. 58), the latter two of which are operated by Elizabeth River Crossings for VDOT. The visit to these tunnels included meetings between VDOT, Elizabeth River Crossings, DOT, FEMA, and VDEM officials to discuss their operations and actions in place to ensure these vital elements are resilient.
“Transportation around Hampton Roads relies on the successful operation of these tunnels,” said Chris Hall, VDOT District Engineer and Administrator for Hampton Roads. “This coordinated review with FEMA and other agencies will help us protect the crossings and keep people moving if disaster strikes.”
These tunnels provide a vital lifeline for the communities they serve, allowing access and entry to areas that are otherwise cut off by water. “We see millions of people every year traveling through the CBBT, and our goal is to ensure they can do so safely,” stated CBBT Executive Director Jeffrey Holland. “Our partnership with both emergency managers and transportation officials is vital to our success and that of the communities served by the CBBT.”
This meeting and tour allowed emergency managers from both state and federal agencies to see the priorities facing transportation officials and to better understand potential risks, hazards, and needs in the event of an emergency, such as a hurricane or flood.
“We have partnered closely with state agencies and localities throughout Eastern Virginia to improve evacuation plans and citizen preparedness, including launching the ‘Know Your Zone’ hurricane evacuation campaign last year,” stated VDEM State Coordinator Dr. Jeff Stern. “These tunnels are a critical part of any potential plan to move people out of harm’s way and deploy resources into the area, and this partnership will empower us to better serve and protect the citizens of Virginia and our visitors.” For emergency managers, these tunnels represent a key planning element when it comes to how to get resources into affected areas during an event. By meeting with operators and planners, FEMA and VDEM are able to improve the coordination of planning efforts and better understand the needs and potential risks facing these areas and the safe operation of these vital links between communities. Individuals are encouraged to ‘Know Your Zone’ by visiting www.KnowYourZoneVA.org.
During emergencies, knowing who to contact and what response capabilities are available plays an invaluable part in managing the response to an incident and protecting lives and properties. “These partnerships are critical to our success when it comes to a disaster, and building upon our relationship only strengthens our ability to respond to these incidents swiftly and effectively,” stated FEMA Region III Regional Administrator MaryAnn Tierney. “What resources are needed here, how can FEMA help ensure these tunnels stay operational, or get back online quickly? Answering these questions with federal, state, and other partners will help us prepare for potentially catastrophic events.” As communities rely on these tunnel-bridges every single day, their operation requires not only day-to-day activities but long-term planning for the future and what role emergency managers play in their resilience in the face of an emergency.
By bringing these officials together, FEMA Region III, DOT, VDOT, and VDEM and all their partners look to find ways to prepare communities for potential impacts to these critical throughways. “Our partnership across all levels – federal, state, local, and private sector organizations – is the key to transportation reliability and resiliency,” stated DOT Regional Emergency Transportation Representative Lisa Brennan. “Bringing everyone together to discuss these community links is just the beginning of ensuring we are serving and protecting the travelers who use these routes every day.”