Eyeing disaster aid, city floats new emergency ops model

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Virginia Beach EMS responds to an accident. (Courtesy vbems.com)
Virginia Beach EMS responds to an accident in March.(Photo courtesy vbems.com)

Every four years, the city’s plan for emergency operations gets an update. This year, it got an overhaul.

“We took the 2012 plan and set that aside and started with a blank piece of paper,” Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Erin Sutton told City Council last week. 

Like all operations, the city’s plan presents a framework for how to handle “major emergencies and disasters within the city,” Sutton’s presentation says. Emergency responses include activities such as debris management, damage assessment and evacuation. All told, there are 17 emergency-support functions, including transportation, communications, search and rescue, HazMat and military affairs.

The city’s new plan, yet to be adopted, breaks down into five categories: mitigation, prevention, guidance, protection and preparedness and response and references. This year, it’ll also be available digitally — an improvement from the past, when hundreds of pages used to be printed.

But instead of using a functional format — a department-to-department plan of dealing with operations, the city will be adopting an emergency-support function layout — the approach used by the state and the federal government. This method is a “grouping of governmental and certain private sector capabilities into an organizational structure,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Overall, working in the emergency-support functions is just an easier process,” Sutton said in an interview with Southside Daily. 

The emergency-support function layout streamlines how the city would respond to emergencies in a way that would coordinate with state, military and/or federal assistance.

“So if they were to come in and provide assistance to us, it’s apples to oranges,” Sutton told council. She noted that if there were an emergency, the state or federal government would likely be involved.

The city is required by the Commonwealth of Virginia to update and readopt its emergency- operations plan every four years — that’s important to do if the city wants access to pre and post-disaster funds. 

Sutton, also chair of the Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan, will be back in front of council to adopt that plan. She said she doesn’t know when it’ll be adopted, but it should be within the next week.

“It must be adopted to attach to disaster dollars, so that’s the other big thing coming around the bend,” she said.