Saturday, December 3, 2022

Post-Hurricane Florence reflections from emergency managers in Hampton and Newport News

Even though Hurricane Florence missed the Hampton Roads area, it was initially projected to cause major flooding and damage.

Here’s an inside look at what the emergency managers of the cities thought was done well and what needs work for the next one.

Hampton

Hui-Shan Walker is the emergency management coordinator for the city.

Overall, she said she felt as though the emergency procedures and evacuations went smoothly.

She said a lot of residents knew exactly what they needed to do when told to evacuate because of the city’s “Know Your Zone campaign.

The data used to create the new tiered evacuation plan (Know Your Zone) was created using prior city knowledge of flood zones and contractors employed through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Once the evacuation order was ordered by Gov. Ralph Northam on Sept. 10, the city immediately responded by sending out communication to Zone A residents, shelter information and shelter transportation information.

By 11 a.m. on Sept. 11, the city had two shelters up and running.

The two shelters proved to be enough, housing at maximum 100 people and 13 pets the days they were open, she said.

The city had plans for more shelters that could be open in the event that more were needed, Walker said.

Another thing the city will be working on is a plan for those who work in city buildings that are in the evacuation zones.

They will be working to create a plan of action so if any evacuations are called, city employees will know where to report for work.

Since the city offices were only closed for one day, there was no major impact on the city’s productivity.

“Everything went pretty smoothly,” Walker said.

Another thing she does want residents to be thinking about other than their zone is to have a plan set in place.

She doesn’t want anyone to become complacent since hurricane season has only begun.

To find more information about Know Your Zone, click here. 

Newport News

George Glazner, the deputy coordinator for Newport News Emergency Management, said “things went well.”

“The city was prepared and had three shelters open,” he said.

All three city shelters closed before Hurricane Florence because of “low usage” and neither shelter was filled to capacity.

The evacuation order for Zone A residents gave local governments 42 hours to prepare for the storm.

There were many ways residents living in Zone A were notified about the oncoming hurricane, from updates or apps accessible via cellphones, weather maps that tracked the hurricane’s projection and phone calls.

Glazner said the city “targeted” all residents living in Zone A and left an “automated message” detailing the governor’s mandatory evacuation announcement, evacuation plans and other resources available to residents.

One of Glazner’s concerns — also the concern of “all emergency managers” — is whether people will take the next hurricane seriously.

“You don’t want to appear to cry wolf,” he said. “You can’t wait until it’s here to prepare.”

When asked if he had any advice to the public, Glazner said “continue to be vigilant and obey the instructions that are given for each individual event.”

The city’s hurricane assessment, including financial losses from local business and city resources used to prepare for the Hurricane Florence, will be announced sometime in October, Glazner said.

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