ReadyVB: Meet the Emergency Management Security Division Team
Pictured L-R: Michael Delp, Joe Varbero, Mike Freeman, Aero
The tragic event that took place on May 31, 2019, changed the landscape in the City of Virginia Beach. This included security and safety in City buildings at the Municipal Center. A post-5/31 report showed that City employees and the community would benefit from centralizing security. In 2021, the Security Division was formally established in the City’s Department of Emergency Management.
The first hire for the division was Mike Freeman, a former FBI agent with 13 years’ experience as a police officer in Knoxville, Tennessee, and 24 years as a bomb technician and SWAT in the FBI Norfolk Field Office. (Freeman still serves as a VBPD auxiliary police officer and bomb technician.)
As deputy security coordinator, Freeman immediately began making changes to improve the City’s security resilience, which involves protecting City assets—and most importantly employees—to withstand any unpredictable threats or changes. He established department liaisons, built relationships with stakeholders, and centralized typical security tools such as cameras, lights and safety plans across City facilities.
Freeman brought Michael Delp and Joe Varbero onto the team as security specialists, altogether bringing nearly 100 years of security experience to Emergency Management.
Varbero spent 15 years as a Virginia Beach Police Department officer—working patrol and special operations—before retiring from the department. He then had stints working for the Department of Homeland Security and international security before coming back to the City of Virginia Beach.
Delp served 26 years in the Norfolk Police Department. He started in community policing and then spent his last 20 years on SWAT, as a K9 handler and instructor in the police academies. After a brief time at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, Delp joined the team in August 2022.
Freeman said there are several programs Delp and Varbero manage—and since the team’s inception, they have moved at a fast pace adding assets online, working with consultants, and upgrading physical security features.
Emergency Management launched use of the Rave Panic Button app in 2022 to help City employees rapidly notify 911 of a critical emergency and reduce the time before help reaches them across the municipal complex.
“What we have evolved into are a number of programs…like the Panic Button. It didn’t exist and now we [City of Virginia Beach] utilize that,” Freeman said. “Our team has spent a considerable effort training employees and upgrading the physical security features in City facilities.”
Varbero said it came about when the team looked at ways to ensure emergency alerts were sent to City employees quickly and efficiently.
“The benefit is it is GPS-based. If you call 911 and tell them exactly where you are, they can geolocate the person,” he said. “If it is a building in the Municipal Center, City workers will get a notification saying where the incident is coming from.”
‘One EM Concept’
The team also saw the commonality of goals shared between security and emergency management—the big one: community resiliency.
The April 30 tornado tested the team’s information sharing and security awareness during a natural disaster. Their response included a secure command post, ensuring impacted residents were safe and organizing the physical security for City departments assisting in the recovery cleanup.
During that time, Delp said he coordinated transportation for City leadership to the disaster area. At one point, Emergency Management Director Dave Topczynski had so many responsibilities, Delp was asked to help keep the city manager updated periodically with pertinent information.
Varbero said the team abides by the “One EM Concept” touted by Topczynski. The concept: when there is an event—disaster, emergency, big festival—everyone steps in to assist in overall tasks such as communications, transportation, security, etc.
“During the BEACH IT! concert, Joe and I were able to set up the [BEACH IT!] festival command post’s cameras feed into the City’s command post,” Delp said. “We were then able to see everything the festival’s command post could see. That is a prime example of how our team orchestrates and establishes security resilience.”
Freeman said he is proud of his team and the progress they have made. He also acknowledged the assistance of his furry friend and service dog, Aero! The two-year-old Labrador was trained and provided by Mutts With A Mission.
“Aero accompanies me to every meeting,” Freeman said. “She is a great partner and is welcome as a teammate to Emergency Management.”
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.