CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — As Tropical Storm Isaias approaches, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management is having to change how it monitors the storm due to COVID-19.
At Virginia’s Emergency Operations Center in Chesterfield, there would normally be 50 to 100 stakeholders in one room coordinating the state’s response.
Lauren Opett, Joint Information Center Manager for VDEM, said this will be the first storm of its size that VDEM will manage virtually. She emphasized the change won’t impact the speed of operations.
Opett said they are doing everything they can to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks among essential employees.
“Obviously being essential employees, we can’t afford to have a large number of us out for an extended period of time being ill so we really took very proactive steps to ensure the health and safety and the continuity of our operations,” Opett said.
Opett said a small group of logistics, situational awareness and planning staff will remain in the command center. She said those people will have to pass daily health screenings, including temperature checks.
Opett said the vast majority of team members are staying connected through video and phone conferencing. She said that’s how they’re meeting regularly with other agencies such as the National Weather Service and Virginia’s National Guard.
Opett said teams have been planning for a virtual response since the COVID-19 pandemic began back in March. Over the past weeks, VDEM teams have also done ‘tabletop exercises’ to prepare for a weather event like this.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a State of Emergency ahead of the storm, freeing up resources and mobilizing 40 members of the state’s National Guard. Opett said local support requests are usually made online.
“So we’ve had very few limitations due to being completely virtual,” Opett said.
VDEM has also released an emergency kit to help you better prepare for severe weather during a pandemic.