CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — The Emergency Operations Center was fully activated following a state of emergency declaration made by Gov. Ralph Northam as the east coast braces for Hurricane Dorian.
The Virginia Dept. of Emergency Management brings all state agencies into one room to coordinate aid when disaster could strike. Some there today included Virginia State Police, the Virginia National Guard, VDOT as well as the Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is basically the nerve center for requests and gives localities their own 911 to call,” Jeff Caldwell, from VDEM, said.
The Emergency Operations Center will be staffed at all hours of the day starting Thursday into Friday. State officials will evaluate staffing levels needed for the center this weekend in a few days, Caldwell says.
The hours going into Wednesday are critical because that’s when major decisions about whether or not Virginians on the coastline will have to evacuate their homes. Also, that’s when state officials will finalize plans on where to stage resources.
Areas that are expected to be the hardest hit aren’t the only ones that could call for a state of emergency. Making this type of declaration formally allows state funding to be used to prepare for a story and frees up resources that could be deployed around the state or other areas. It is essentially a “State of Preparing.”
Some of the state money spent during a storm could be reimbursed by FEMA.
“If we are spared a direct impact or if the impacts here in the Commonwealth are not as significant as we fear, we will then free up resources that could be offered up into other states,” Caldwell said.
Urban search and rescue crews have been on standby since last week in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads that could be deployed. Members of VDEM’s incident management team are also helping to coordinate requests for aid from Florida to other states.
Caldwell says VDOT is working to preposition crews before the storm and are currently clearing out drainage structures. They’re also preparing tunnels and bridges.
VDEM has been coordinating with their counterparts in North Carolina since before hurricane season began because many of our neighbors down south come through Virginia to evacuate.
A final decision about evacuation orders have yet to be made as of Tuesday. Caldwell says teams are tracking the storm.
“Right now we are running models with the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center to consider all of those factors and to make the best determination about how we need to respond here in Virginia,” Caldwell says.
More information is expected to be released within the next day about how Virginians can prepare for the storm.