RICHMOND—November 30 marks the end of the official 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season—one that resulted in 17 total named storms, 10 of which were hurricanes and six of those were major hurricanes category three and above. With 438 fatalities and more than $369.6 billion in damages worldwide attributed to these storms according to the National Hurricane Center, 2017 was a historic hurricane season and the worst seen in since 2005. This is why Virginia continues to enhance its hurricane response plans and is also sending hundreds of personnel, supplies, specialized equipment and recovery teams to those U.S. states and territories devastated by hurricanes this year.
Virginia was largely spared from the deadly combination of storms that impacted the U.S. this year, leaving scars on Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virginia Islands, Florida and Texas from which residents will continue to rebuild for years to come. This stroke of meteorological grace is not lost on the Commonwealth, which faces severe hurricane threats on its Atlantic coast and inland, where hurricane-induced flooding has taken a deadly toll in years past.
“While the Commonwealth was fortunate this year to avoid any major tropical weather system devastation as was seen in other parts of our great nation, it is only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the path of a major hurricane,” said Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) State Coordinator Dr. Jeff Stern. “Virginians must never let down our guard as we prepare for hurricane impacts here at home, and we must provide expertise, manpower and equipment downrange to those regions devastated by this year’s historic storm season. When Virginia is impacted in the future, we will need other state’s help in the same way.”
2017’s Historic New Tiered Hurricane Evacuation Plan
Here in Virginia, 2017 hurricane season was historic in its own right because of major changes to Virginia’s storm preparedness and response programs. This spring, Virginia enacted its largest step forward in hurricane preparedness and storm response planning in modern history. A new, tiered evacuation program for coastal Virginia designed to enhance evacuation plans, boost public safety, and improve travel efficiency in the event of hurricanes or other disasters was inaugurated June 1. Better known by its awareness campaign, “Know Your Zone”, the new plan covering 23 localities in Hampton Roads, the Northern Neck, the Middle Peninsula and the Eastern Shore, represents a significant step toward ensuring the safety for the Commonwealth’s residents and visitors. The new data-driven plan will streamline the evacuation process by providing accurate and useful information to citizens based on their individual street addresses.
Know Your Zone serves 1.25 million people who live in coastal Virginia, the region of the state most vulnerable to hurricanes and other tropical storms. The program was advertised through an extensive television, radio, social media and grassroots outreach campaign conducted by VDEM and participating localities.
“In follow up survey data on the campaign compiled by Virginia Commonwealth University, we found that nearly 20 percent of residents in the region heard about the major evacuation plan change and could identify the campaign and their designated evacuation zone,” Stern said. “This is a great start for a major change like this in its first year, but we know much more work needs to be done to ensure residents in the impacted region are prepared for future hurricane seasons. It is only a matter of time before Virginia is impacted like Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. We still need to encourage coastal Virginia residents to Know Your Zone and all Virginians to protect their homes by purchasing a flood insurance policy to ensure their property, including rental properties, are covered in the case of a catastrophic flood.”
The new evacuation zones can be viewed at www.KnowYourZoneVA.org. Virginians can sign up for flood insurance at www.FloodSmart.gov.
Know Your Zone serves residents in the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach; counties of Accomack, Essex, Gloucester, Isle of Wight, James City, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, Northampton, Northumberland, Richmond County, Surry, Westmoreland, York; and the town of Chincoteague.
Virginia’s Support of Hurricane Impacted Regions Continues
Virginia continues supporting recovery efforts in the Florida, Texas, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. VDEM is coordinating with state emergency management leadership and FEMA to proactively volunteer Virginia resources to help in the long-term recovery of impacted areas.
Virginia has played an active role in assisting damaged communities. Some examples of these efforts have included deploying:
- law enforcement officers from Prince William County, Arlington and Hampton to assist in Puerto Rico
- a Disaster Response Bed-down System (DRBS) to Puerto Rico to provide disaster response sheltering for National Guard personnel performing emergency work in Puerto Rico
- a Spanish-language VDEM logistics officer to assist in coordinating EMAC responses to Puerto Rico and to provide logistical expertise on the ground
- a bi-lingual recovery officer along with the Deputy Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs to Puerto Rico for an on-the-ground assessment of recovery needs and to help coordinate future missions of aid and personnel from Virginia to the storm-ravaged island
- 480 Virginia National Guard soldiers to the S. Virgin Islands to assist in the multi-state, multi-agency response effort which provided humanitarian assistance, cleared roads, distributed essential supplies to citizens, and coordinated military support to civilian authorities
- a statewide Incident Management Team to assist with emergency operations center management in Monroe County, Florida (Florida Keys)
- a VDEM volunteer agency liaison to Texas to assist with coordination of thousands of volunteers arriving in the area through non-profit and religious organizations
- Roanoke’s 17-person Virginia Strike Team 6 to Texas to conduct water rescues of civilians trapped in the rising flood waters from Hurricane Harvey
- the 14-person Fairfax FEMA Virginia Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 to Texas for Hurricane Harvey to assist in swift water rescues of civilians
- Virginia Beach’s FEMA Virginia Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 2 to Texas to provide swift water rescue support
- a Virginia Department of Forestry incident management team of 20 to Beeville to establish and run a series of resource supply areas
- a joint team of 40 people and six helicopters from the Virginia National Guard and Chesterfield County Fire-EMS to Texas to assist with Hurricane Harvey recovery operations
- a statewide Incident Management Team of 27 responders to Texas to provide support to local emergency operations centers and sheltering facilities
- FEMA’s Virginia Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 2 from Virginia Beach to Puerto Rico to conduct search and rescue operations for hurricanes Irma and Maria
- Fairfax’s FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 to Puerto Rico to conduct search and rescue operations after Hurricane Maria
- the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Restoration and Cleanup Strike Team to Florida to assist with on-the-ground cleanup efforts from Hurricane Irma
Urgent Needs Continue–How You Can Get Involved
While the 2017 hurricane season closes on November 30, the needs of those who were devastated by the storms will continue for months and years to come. In this season of giving, Virginians are encouraged to stay engaged and to donate to hurricane relief. To learn how to help those who have been affected by the recent natural disasters please visit https://www.vaemergency.gov/want-help-hurricane-victims-heres-right/
VDEM works with local government, state and federal agencies and voluntary organizations to provide resources and expertise through the five mission areas of emergency management; prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. To learn more about ways VDEM is working to improve disaster preparedness, response and recovery, visit www.vaemergency.gov.