ReadyVB: How the City's Emergency Management Team Prepares for All Types of Disasters
Ensuring you and your household have a plan in the event of an emergency is an important part of preparedness. But who makes sure an entire city is ready? Although the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 each year, the Virginia Beach Emergency Management (EM) team works year-round to plan and prepare—and examine and reshape how it mitigates, responds to, and recovers from disasters and hazards.
Here are some ways Emergency Management prepares behind the scenes.
Develops Hurricane Guidance for Residents
With a goal to develop a “culture of preparedness” in the city, the “ReadyVB” campaign was established to educate and engage the community about hurricane preparedness before a storm hits. Residents can find valuable resources and information on how to prepare for an emergency before, during and after (or recovery) at VirginiaBeach.gov/ReadyVB. Some of those resources include:
- How to Make a Plan: An emergency plan provides a framework to keep your family safe during a crisis.
- Evacuation Zones: Do you “know your zone?” The zones—designated A through D—clarify whether a resident should evacuate in an emergency, or shelter at home or in their place of business – based on their address and the nature of the emergency.
- VBAlert: An emergency alert and warning system that sends messages to registered users via text, email and phone, depending on the methods you register to receive them.
In the event of a major storm, the ReadyVB website has important contact information, information about emergency shelters and recovering from a disaster.
Community Outreach is another way Emergency Management informs residents about overall disaster preparedness. Team members were out educating the community at National Night Out on Aug. 1. They also participate in the Virginia Beach Fire Department’s fire prevention program that is taught to students at Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
The program allows students to participate in an interactive station that educates them about fire prevention and EM shows how emergency preparedness comes into play.
Reviews and Updates Protocols and Procedures
The emergency operations, emergency and evacuation plans are always under review. EM coordinates with other City departments to review and update the protocols and procedures within those plans, according to Renee McKinnon, deputy emergency management coordinator. Public safety—such as Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Communications & Citizen Services —are a big part of that process.
The team also does walkthroughs such as reviewing an actual shelter with staff from Human Services and what it should look like according to the shelter plan. It is one of many ways EM and City departments review and update protocols and procedures.
Conducts Citywide Training on Emergency Operations
EM is focused on all City departments receiving training on emergency operations. To help City staff and other agencies learn skills that will assist with emergency response, the department provides basic National Incident Management System and Incident Command System training courses as needed.
McKinnon says EM is constantly facilitating support to other City departments and outside agencies and stakeholders.
Conducts Exercises to Evaluate the City’s Response and Recovery Plans and Validate Our Processes
As part of its 2020-2024 Strategic Plan, the Emergency Management Department established a routine exercise and evaluation program for the City that regularly tests the knowledge, skills and response of staff participating in the emergency management process.
They also work with other cities, too. McKinnon said EM and other localities recently met with NAS Oceana officials to talk about the response when pre-hurricane assistance from the Department of Defense is requested by local authorities.
The department also conducts annual exercises to test the City’s Emergency Operations Plan, such as evacuation or shelter. For example, one planned exercise this year is a hurricane scenario. McKinnon says that scenario would involve an evacuation of Sandbridge and would include public safety and other applicable departments.
EM emphasizes these exercises are citywide, utilizing various City departments during an incident. Budget, Finance, Public Utilities, Parks & Recreation, Human Services, ECCS, Communications and VBCPS are just a few that have stepped up during an emergency incident.
“It is incident specific. We [EM and the City] respond with the appropriate resources,” McKinnon said.
Real-world events, such as the April 30 tornado that hit the Great Neck Road area, and things learned from them are also built into training and exercises.
Community and private partners are invited to participate in exercises. Partnering with agencies with Hampton Roads, state, and federal ensures redundancy in support before and during recovery after a major emergency event.
After these exercises are complete, EM develops action reports that document and identify gaps and deficiencies. This allows staff to take corrective action in its emergency operations processes.
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 VirginiaBeach.gov/ReadyVB.