Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 31, 2012

Study finds flaws in Va. emergency shelter system


Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia’s emergency shelter management system is hampered by a lack of definitive leadership and could not accommodate all evacuees if Hampton Roads experiences a devastating storm or other serious emergency event, a preliminary assessment of shelter capacity found.

A variety of public agencies have a function in shelter and evacuation planning. But the planning is being done “in silos” and no one agency or department has taken ownership of the issue, according to the assessment.

Also, Virginia has “not given the needed effort to working with local jurisdictions on shelter plans,” a report on the assessment said.

If there is a serious emergency event in Hampton Roads, the state expects 50,000 evacuees to need transportation or shelter services. But the state’s capacity is 18,000 evacuees, the report said.

The Virginian-Pilot (http://bit.ly/UgqTL4) reported the assessment’s conclusions Monday.

The assessment was conducted by Fairfax County-based Dewberry, a consulting and engineering firm hired by the state under a $505,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Secretary Terrie Suit said the assessment is preliminary and its information must be verified. A final report with recommendations is expected to be made available to the public in the coming weeks.

“What we’re doing now is checking behind the information to determine what is accurate and what is not so accurate,” Suit told the newspaper.

Robb Braidwood, Chesapeake’s deputy emergency services coordinator, said the city’s relationship with state shelter planners was cordial. But he acknowledged there are gaps.

He said the bigger challenge is a potential lack of space in Chesapeake to accommodate everyone wanting shelter if there is a major event. The city’s 35 schools could provide shelter to up to 15,000 people. But facilities in storm surge areas wouldn’t be suitable in severe weather conditions.

“And as the report indicates, the state-managed shelter system is at a deficit as well,” he told the newspaper, referring to the Dewberry report.

Braidwood chairs the Regional Catastrophic Planning Team, which is doing its own evaluation to identify, and remedy, emergency service gaps. The group is planning for weather disasters and explosive or biological attacks, and covers about two dozen localities in the Hampton Roads region as well as Currituck and Dare counties in North Carolina.