VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY)- A busy year for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management continues with the start of what’s expected to be an active hurricane season.
The season started on June 1 but VDEM officials said they plan all throughout the year for the hurricane-prone state.
“Obviously with COVID this last year, the planning was side-lined a little bit. We have been working on it. Especially the key thing we do is take the lessons learned from the last hurricane season, adjust, and train with our localities as we roll into hurricane season,” said Erin Sutton, who is the chief deputy state coordinator for VDEM.
Sutton said that work includes ensuring having policies and protocols in place in case shelters are needed and how to handle those vaccinated and unvaccinated.
VDEM is also working on how to communicate information about evacuation zones better to communities from lessons learned during Hurricane Florence and Dorian, according to Sutton.
“With evacuations, we’re breaking it down to sub-regions. Something affecting the Southside might not be affecting the Peninsula or Northern Neck and the Eastern Shore. Breaking it down a little bit further helps make sure we’re not putting folks on the road unnecessarily,” she said.
Lessons from previous storms aren’t the only thing those at VDEM has learned over the past year.
Sutton said they’ve had to deal simultaneously with multiple emergencies ranging from COVID-19, to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, to the Colonial Pipeline hack.
“I think that’s the biggest change for us. We’re not looking at single events anymore,” she said.
That can stretch them thin, according to Sutton, who said they have about 150 personnel with the agency.
Their emergency operation center has been running for more than 400 days, she said.
“We’re trying to make sure folks are taking some time off with the busy summer season,” Sutton said.
Sutton also said it’s important for people to plan ahead, not just before storms. They can be prepared by having emergency kits ready to go, as well as knowing evacuation zones.
She said hurricanes can impact Virginia in different ways, from direct hits from the storm, to flash flooding, to tornadoes, to power outages.
That’s why the most important recommendation she has is making sure people have access through phone apps and two-way radios to get information.