November 3, 2023

ReadyVB: Emergency Management Leaders Bring Decades of Experience in Disaster Response

Director David Topczynski and Deputy EM Coordinator Renee McKinnon lead their team in planning, implementing, and overseeing emergency response plans.

Emergency Management Team Members in Meeting

As quick-forming Tropical Storm Ophelia moved up the coastline in late September, the Virginia Beach Emergency Management team was closely monitoring forecasts to determine if the city would experience any impacts. Ophelia was anticipated to dump inches of rain and bring tropical storm-force winds to the area.

Emergency Management Director David Topczynski and deputy emergency management coordinator Renee McKinnon were already updating City leaders, department directors, and public safety officials about the possible impacts in the area.

Topczynski and McKinnon ensured City Communications and local agencies had accurate information to convey to residents and visitors. On the day of anticipated impacts, an emergency operations center was established in Building 30.

Looking Ahead

Even though the only impacts the city endured was heavy rain and strong winds—preparation, experience and leadership were vital during that time.

The way Topczynski explained it: “We know what happens if you don’t look ahead.”

“It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, we don’t know what is coming in the future,” he said. “It only takes one major event to change the landscape or change the entire world.”

Topczynski said his team aims to build community resiliency through programs such as the ReadyVB campaign that educates and engages the community about hurricane preparedness before a storm hits.

Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Renee McKinnon

Identifying Gaps

McKinnon said her role is to work with the Emergency Management team and identify gaps in community resiliency and “fill those gaps.”

“Training, outreach, exercises, working with the community—and identifying those things we are missing,” she said.

McKinnon said sometimes those “missing things” may be lack of education about what EM is about or what basic services are offered during and after a disaster.

After the April 30 tornado that hit the Great Neck and River Road areas, McKinnon said public safety did a great job as first responders. That’s when Emergency Management comes in to provide the resources during the recovery process—what impacted residents need, food, shelters, working closely with City and schools.

The ‘Bigger Picture’

Topczynski and the EM team are doing a lot of work on recovery and resiliency throughout the year. It’s a continual process.

“It’s that mindset of ‘we have to see the bigger picture.’ We must get society and people functioning after a disaster [or emergency], keep businesses open,” he said. “Life might not be the same, but we want those basic functions to be available to the community and residents.”

Real World Experience

Topczynski’s experience comes from years of service in the emergency management field and fire service. He was a lieutenant at the Newport News Fire Department before going to City of Portsmouth Emergency Management and then landing at the City of Virginia Beach in 2021.

Topczynski was promoted to director in December 2022.

McKinnon has more than two decades of experience in the U.S. Coast Guard and emergency management, including 10 Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) deployments.

McKinnon was hired as deputy emergency management coordinator in March.

Both said they have settled into their positions and that so far it has been “exciting but a whirlwind” with planning for special events such as SOMETHING IN THE WATER and BEACH IT! festivals, the April 30 tornado and start of hurricane season (which officially ends Nov. 30).

The City of Virginia Beach Emergency Management team promotes a comprehensive emergency management program to mitigate Virginia Beach's impacts from man-made, natural or technological disasters. Learn more at

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