RICHMOND—The Virginia Department of Emergency Management today announced that State Coordinator, Curtis Brown, has accepted the Governor’s Honor Award for the agency’s ongoing commitment to bolster diversity, equity and inclusion efforts during the ongoing response to COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, VDEM has been partnered with the Governor’s Chief Diversity Officer and the Virginia Department of Health Office of Health Equity to establish the Health Equity Task Force. This task force is a first-of-its-kind, innovative coalition that is embedded at the senior-level of Virginia’s unified command structure for the COVID-19 public health crisis, working to apply a health equity lens to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s pandemic response. In collaboration with this task force, VDEM made several enhancements to its disaster response processes and operations.
“COVID-19 has highlighted the importance to incorporate equity and inclusion perspectives into all aspects of emergency management, especially when supporting Virginians during a disaster,” said Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. “These are dynamic situations requiring data-driven approaches to ensure our most vulnerable communities receive the information and resources they need to reduce disaster impacts. As a leader in this area, I am proud of the steps we have taken and will continue to take throughout this pandemic and beyond.”
The Annual Governor’s Honor Awards recognize extraordinary efforts made by state employees that contribute to the advancement of the Commonwealth’s mission and objectives. VDEM was recognized under the Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach category which recognizes employees who demonstrate outstanding commitment to promoting and enhancing diversity and inclusion efforts. A link to the Governor’s full press release can be found here.
Taskforce leaders recognized with the award includes: Dr. Janice Underwood (Governor’s Chief Diversity Officer), Alaysia Black Hackett (Deputy Chief Diversity Officer), Sable K. Nelson (Acting Director, VDH Office of Health Equity), Dr. Lauren Powell (Health Equity Consultant), Karen Brimm (Acting Access and Functional Needs Officer), and Jasmine Smith (VDH Office of Health Equity). The Health Equity Pilot Project was also specifically noted for distributing personal protective equipment and public health information to at-risk communities across the Commonwealth. Desire Branch-Ellis (VDEM Policy Advisor) and Jason Eaton (VDEM’s Logistic Chief), worked in coordination with VDEM regional staff and local government partners to guide this successful effort across the Commonwealth. The VDEM communications team and state Joint Information Center, led by Lauren Opett (VDEM Director of Communications and Chief Agency Spokesperson), has also worked to enhance public outreach efforts for Virginia’s historically underserved and vulnerable communities. Additional details on both the pilot program and communications efforts are outlined below.
Health Equity and School Equity Pilot Programs
- Development of programs designed to provide personal protective equipment and resources to vulnerable communities across the Commonwealth.
- Executed in partnership with the Health Equity Task Force and using data driven metrics to identify unserved populations.
- As of December 15, 2020 this program has collaborated with more than 65 localities to host community engagement events for distribution of PPE.
- More than 150 shipments have been coordinated and distributed by VDEM logistics staff which includes approximately 1.1 million adult cloth masks, 200,000 children’s cloth masks, and 750,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.
Training for State Employees
- Development of a guidance document for state agencies to provide key information on the provision of information and messaging that is accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf blind, blind and visually impaired.
- Development of an online training course to provide details on securing translation and interpretation resources and services for remote meetings and press conferences, and addressing site accessibility for people with disabilities including the major features of 508 compliance: Closed captioning and subtitles, screen reader capability, accessibility with the keyboard, and transcription.
- Providing just in time training for government employees at the state and local level that assisted with programs for vulnerable communities across the Commonwealth. This training allowed personnel to discuss several key topics such as the rationale for centering equity in disaster response, recognizing the differences between equity and equality, understanding the social determinants of health, utilizing data and research related to health equity, and explaining unconscious bias and cultural humility.
Press Conferences and Written Guidance
- Providing ASL interpretation for all press conferences and ASL translation of all COVID-related Executive Orders
- Translation of all COVID-19 Executive Orders and guidance into Virginia’s top 6 languages – Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Arabic, Vietnamese, and Tagalog
- Live Spanish translation of all Governor’s press conferences
Social Media and Community Engagement
- Translation of all life safety graphics produced by VDEM into the top 6 languages
- Translation of the Hurricane Evacuation Guide during the COVID-19 into multiple languages, including plain text format, to ensure it is accessible. Printed copies were also made available to localities for distribution to their communities that cannot access digital information or requested a hard copy.
- Increased efforts to amplify public safety messages to vulnerable communities
- Creation of TV ads, radio messaging, and public events that address diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Conducted research to identify vulnerable communities for targeted outreach efforts
- VDEM website was made available in multiple languages for disaster preparedness information
- The Virginia Joint Information Center, led by VDEM, partnered with Virginia-based company, Capital One, that is providing pro bono reviews of public facing portions of pre-identified state COVID-related websites to determine what pages and functions are not accessible to those using assistive devices and technologies
“This year has really shifted the way we look at disasters and we recognized the need to take action,” said Curtis Brown, VDEM State Coordinator. “We have worked within our own agency and with other partners to develop and implement strategic programs and policy updates to ensure lasting, significant changes that will support our most at-risk communities. The work being done by VDEM team members is nothing short of outstanding and is a true testament to our commitment to equitably direct our emergency management efforts to support communities disproportionately impacted by disasters and inclusively support all Virginians before, during, and after disasters.”
While VDEM accepted the award for its expanded efforts in response to COVID-19, the agency sees them as part of an ongoing commitment to make measurable strides toward the consideration of diversity, equity, and inclusion across all of the agency’s programs and actions.