NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Remember this mess on Interstate 95 in northern Virginia earlier this year?
For the hundreds of people stuck on the interstate during the snow, they’ll never forget it.
But state officials want to do what they can to make sure it never happens again.
“It kind of looked like one of those apocalyptic movies.” That’s how one driver described being stuck in the epic traffic jam on I-95 in Stafford County back in January this year.
For more than 24 hours, travelers were stuck in their cars on the snowy interstate. It was VDOT’s responsibility to clear the highway of the abandoned vehicles.
The situation prompted a tabletop exercise Wednesday with city officials in Newport News.
Parts of the exercise included simulations of what could happen in emergency situations, such as the city manager requesting information and the media calling for details, as well as citizens searching for information.
The exercise was led by the Virginia Department of Emergency Services and hosted by the City of Newport News. it simulated a significant winter weather event that could shut down Interstate 64 in Newport News.
“We have plans, but those are on paper,” said Newport News Fire Chief Jeff Johnson.
Johnson listened closely, as it is mostly his responsibility along with the first responders to assist victims in case of a massive rescue.
“This is an opportunity to take a lot of what we have known and what we have plans for and then inject things we do not know or are not prepared for,” said Johnson.
Reacting quickly and mobilizing work teams virtually were talked about — an effective compromise that came out of the pandemic.
“We can stand up much faster if all someone has to do is already at their work station in another locality or somewhere else in the state. And they go into a meeting, a virtual meeting, they are suddenly there and part of that,” Johnson said.
The exercise helps first responders come up with solutions to real-time situations such as reacting to people with medical issues and deteriorating weather conditions. It also factors in how long can people remain in their vehicles without support.
“You can look at the largest cities in this country that have had major events that have occurred and they bring in partners, federal and state. It takes a team to solve a problem,” Johnson said.
The city staff members are going to take all the information they learned from Wednesday’s exercise and come up with a game plan if faced with a similar situation. They are also going to reach out to neighboring communities to make this a truly regional response.