RD455 - Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) 2015 Virginia Emergency Response Team Exercise (VERTEX) After-Action Report

Executive Summary:
On March 11, 2015, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), with support from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region III, conducted a Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) tabletop exercise. The purposes of this hurricane response tabletop exercise were (a) to examine the ability to coordinate and deliver required capabilities across multiple jurisdictions to affected communities in the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane, and (b) to increase awareness and understanding of existing federal and state response and recovery capabilities in accordance with existing doctrines, plans, policies, and procedures.

The annual Virginia Emergency Response Team Exercise (VERTEX) was intended to prepare the Commonwealth of Virginia for potential threats by measuring current capabilities, policies, and procedures against the requirements to properly respond to, and recover from man-made and natural disasters impacting the Commonwealth. The overarching purpose of the 2015 VERTEX was to conduct an exercise that engaged the whole community with the Commonwealth. Built on the scenario posed in the 2014 VERTEX series, the exercise created the basis for transitioning from response to short-term recovery from a hurricane.

The exercise involved over 140 participants representing federal and state agencies, local jurisdictions from the Hampton Roads region, and nongovernmental organizations. It was conducted through a combination of plenary and breakout discussion sessions.

The following key themes emerged from the exercise discussions:

• Participants from FEMA Region III understood their roles and responsibilities to support life-safety and life-sustaining needs following hurricane landfall, in accordance with the FEMA Region III Hurricane Plan.

• Participants from VDEM and agencies supporting emergency support functions understood their roles and responsibilities and identified priorities after hurricane landfall and during transition to recovery, in accordance with the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan (COVEOP) and the Virginia Emergency Response Team (VERT) standard operating procedures.

• The Hampton Roads region is too large a geographic area for VDEM and FEMA to treat as a single entity and still effectively and efficiently manage and deploy assets to support response operations. Participants suggested that the region be divided into sub-regions for operational coordination purposes, based on geographic divisions and intra-governmental relationships.

• Participants recognized the need to further understand the cascading effects and interdependencies affecting critical infrastructure. For example, reestablishing the power grid is dependent on clearing debris from roads so that power companies can gain access to restore power lines and transformers. In addition, the water supply and sanitation system requires electricity, which can be maintained with generators. However, participants were concerned about the ability to refuel the generators, a process that relies on debris removal from roads to clear access to pumping stations and on prioritization of the limited fuel supply coming to the region.