CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — As Tropical Depression Ida approaches Central Virginia, the Chesterfield County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) is preparing to handle an influx of calls for assistance from local residents.
Storms are projected to hit the area between 2 and 10 p.m. Wednesday, with the potential for flash flooding and strong, damaging winds.
On a typical day, Chesterfield County Emergency Communications Center Director Tommy Tucker said that staff could manage roughly 500 calls for assistance from first responders. However, on days where there is severe weather, he said that number can double or even triple.
“Before a storm comes in, our Emergency Management Department, they track the storms, they give us a heads up on what’s coming, what they anticipate the storm is going to cause,” Tucker said. “We will bring in additional staffing to make sure that we can handle the additional call load that does arise.”
The Emergency Communications Center is divided into three sections. Call takers answer non-emergency and emergency requests from local residents, and then process those calls. In most cases, Tucker said that calls will be directed to the police or fire department. But in the event of a storm, other first responders may get involved to assist with downed power lines or trees.
“Severe weather, what we’ll see is downed trees, we’ll have power lines that are down, hazardous conditions for water, people driving into water that they should not drive into, get entrapped,” Tucker said. “If people would stay home, it would really help us out a lot. Get the supplies you need prior to the storm, stay at home, and then, that’ll help us here at ECC and the emergency responders out in the field.”
8News also spoke with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) on Tuesday. The agencies are urging residents to prepare to potentially lose power by securing their belongings, seeking shelter, staying aware of the latest weather alerts, avoiding travel, and stocking up on water, food and flashlights.
VDOT spokesperson Bethanie Glover said that, following severe weather in the southwestern region of the Commonwealth, crews spent Tuesday clearing drainage facilities to minimize flooding as much as possible.
“Right now, we’re ready to respond to any unsafe travel conditions due to remnants from Hurricane Ida and address some of the damage as needed,” she said. “We work really closely with our power, energy providers to make sure that any fallen power lines are taken out of the roadways, quickly and safely as possible, and that any fallen trees are addressed and moved off of the roadway so that we can safely reopen lanes.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s State of Emergency declaration, which was announced Tuesday afternoon in response to Tropical Depression Ida, was put in place to allow the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and to deploy people and equipment to assist in response and recovery efforts. According to a release, the declaration also allows officials from Virginia to coordinate planning and evacuation resources with state and local partners.
For the Chesterfield County Emergency Communications Center, Tucker said that the State of Emergency enables the local government and first responders to work closely with nearby emergency operations centers to coordinate requests for services to residents.
“If an older couple had lost power or they cannot get somewhere or they need their medications, the Emergency Operations Center would coordinate getting food to them, getting them transported to a hospital; if needed, getting them oxygen, if their oxygen tank is not working,” he said. “It’s just those general services to the citizen that they would handle, in addition to any other emergency requests.”
Tucker also said that the emergency declaration allows Chesterfield County to work with other nearby localities to coordinate mutual aid, if needed.
Although residents are urged to take precautions in the event that they lose power from the forecasted severe weather, Tucker said that the Emergency Communications Center has several backup sources of power to make sure that staff members are able to handle calls from residents.