State officials make changes to Hampton Roads hurricane evacuation plans

Posted at 3:46 PM, May 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-06 17:19:41-04

Norfolk, Va. (WTKR) - Emergency Management officials in Virginia are revising hurricane preparedness strategies, including evacuation plans for Hampton Roads.

Last year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered a review of Virginia's hurricane preparedness plan after he expressed concern that an evacuation of Hampton Roads would be problematic.

"Right now, we are in the process by next year of transforming how we do and order evacuations in Virginia," Dr. Jeff Stern, State Coordinator of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management told NewsChannel 3's Todd Corillo Tuesday.

Part of the review recommended prioritizing evacuations by higher risk areas, encouraging folks in safer areas to "shelter in place" rather than add additional traffic to the roadways during an evacuation.

"That’s why I think sheltering in place is a practical alternative because anyone who travels 64 during the summer knows just how busy it gets," Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran stated.

Emergency Management officials stress the importance of knowing the storm surge risk for your home, which they've created an online map outlining each area as determined by FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Study.

You can find that tool here: Virginia Hurricane Storm Surge Tool.

During a NOAA Hurricane Awareness Tour stop in Norfolk, officials also stressed the importance of heeding evacuation orders early to avoid getting stuck.

"You may get an evacuation order when the sun is shining. You’re going hey the storm isn’t here yet. You have to leave early to give everyone time to get to safety," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate explained.

"Take your worst day in traffic in Norfolk and multiple it by a factor of 10. It is almost inconceivable to people how slow it’s going to move. That’s why you need to go early and know where you are going," he continued.

In 2014, Virginia revised the hurricane evacuation decision-making timeline, providing for an additional 12 hours for deciding evacuation issues.

"When you are flipping a coin every year as to whether the hurricane is going to hit or not, you’re just playing the odds that eventually it will happen," Stern said.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe's office also released additional findings that came from the in-season review of the hurricane preparedness plan.

  • Coordination and information-sharing between state and local emergency officials has been inconsistent. Identified areas for improvement include standardization of conference calls, use of technology for information exchange, deployment of liaison officers in local emergency operations centers and continued development of a regional approach to disasters in Hampton Roads.

  • A mass evacuation of Hampton Roadsmay not be necessary if areas at riskare prioritized and communicated to the public early. This allows those in higher-risk areas enough time to get to a safelocation.

    • Virginia and the Hampton Roads region should emphasize focused evacuations. New information technology will enable better planning for the most critical areas.
  • The reversal of lanes on Interstate 64 is an evacuation tool of last resort and is reserved for the most catastrophic storms.

  • Future transportation projects should consider capacity improvements to facilitate evacuations.

  • Additional shelter capacity is needed for those seeking refuge within the Hampton Roads region that is capable of withstanding storm winds.

  • Building codes have not adequately addressed the requirements for storm wind protection.

  • Plans are in place to contract with bus services to evacuate individuals with access and functional needs and those without transportation, but these efforts are fragmented between different jurisdictions and levels of government.

  • Progress has been made to communicate regional preparedness information to the public through Ready Hampton Roads, but a more robust public messaging effort will be needed as changes are made to evacuation planning and sheltering, and also when communicating with summer tourists.

  • Future state exercises should focus on how local, state and federal partners respond after the disaster; addressing issues such as intermediate and long-term housing, economic recovery, infrastructure rebuilding and communications.