RD568 - Report to the General Assembly [Sheltering During a Disaster] – November 1, 2019

Executive Summary:

On September 10, 2018, Governor Northam ordered a mandatory evacuation for approximately 245,000 people in Coastal Zone A in Hampton Roads in response to the potential impact of Hurricane Florence. That same day, VDEM entered into a contract for a total of $31,151,250 with DRC (SLS) to provide services by Wednesday, September 12 at 9:00 a.m. for 5,777 residents for seven days. These services were to be provided at three state-managed shelters, located at The College of William and Mary (W&M), Christopher Newport University (CNU), and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

On September 12, Virginia opened two of the state shelters at CNU and W&M. The third state-managed shelter, at VCU, was on standby but never opened. At the same time, twenty-four (24) localities were opening local shelters for their residents. By the evening of September 13, Florence had been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, and made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, early on September 14. At peak occupancy, there were fifty-two residents in all state-managed shelters. That same day the Governor lifted the mandatory evacuation order for Coastal Virginia.

September 14 and 15, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) closed and begin to demobilize the two state-managed shelters. Virginia reallocated its resources to North and South Carolina to assist with their emergency shelters. Because Hurricane Florence was a presidentially-declared disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to reimburse the Commonwealth for 75 percent of all eligible costs. As of this date, Virginia has received $14,917,500 (forty-five percent of expected reimbursement of the sheltering costs) and $900,761 for transportation costs, for a total of $15,818,261.

State agency responsibilities for emergency preparedness and response are outlined in two executive orders, different statutes, and several plans developed by different agencies. The specific operational responsibilities of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and other state agencies during an emergency are outlined in the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan (COVEOP), which was adopted and implemented by Executive Order 42 (EO42).

The Code of Virginia assigns responsibility for sheltering planning to the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security (§ 2.2-222.1). The Secretary and VDEM have addressed catastrophic state sheltering by participating in the development of the VDSS led State Coordinated Regional Shelter Plan (SCR Shelter Plan). If state shelters are activated, the COVEOP directs agencies to follow the SCR Shelter Plan. There are 13 identified state shelter sites, and each is located at an institution of higher education (IHE).

VDEM plays a primary role in advising the Governor whether to issue a disaster declaration and also whether to activate a state shelter. One activated, VDSS has primarily responsibility for state shelter operations. During an emergency, VDEM and DGS (among other agencies) who are charged with logistics responsibilities support VDSS.

State Plans Do Not Clearly Assign Roles and Responsibilities. The SCR Shelter Plan states that VDEM and VDSS will jointly coordinate regarding activation of state shelters. Per that plan, this coordination would occur after the Hurricane Evacuation Working Group has recommended evacuation and sheltering actions. However, EO42 delegates authority to activate a state shelter solely to the State Coordinator. This inconsistency has led to disagreement about roles and responsibilities, and may have led to the unnecessary activation of state shelters. This process needs additional clarification of roles.

Responsibilities for Procurement and Contracting Should Be Clarified. Currently, the COVEOP assigns responsibility to acquire resources during an emergency to VDEM. In contrast, Executive Order 41 (2019) requires that state agencies have emergency procurement contracts. However, neither document, nor other state plans, fully address the capabilities of all agencies, which may mean that key public resources are not used in an emergency. The current framework could also lead to procurement inefficiencies or gaps, and further clarity of roles is needed.

Additional Steps Are Needed Regarding Warehousing and Maintaining Existing Stockpiles. Some state agencies own and store limited supplies and commodities for use in sheltering. VDSS, in coordination with IHEs, VDEM, and other state agencies, should create a list of supplies and then work with DGS to ensure sufficient contracts are in place and identify potential warehousing space.

Enhanced Training and Assessment Are Needed to Ensure Adequate Capacity and Capability. Both capacity and capability are needed to support evacuees. Capacity measures the number of beds, while capability indicates how many people can be supported in a shelter given each shelter’s staffing, service availability, and other resources. IHEs that are designated as state shelter sites have varying capabilities. For example, some IHEs have contracts with private vendors for food, others use their own staff, and sites at community colleges have limited food options. Despite these differences, the COVEOP and SCR Shelter Plan generally address each IHE as if they are similar. Site specific annexes are used to address unique requirements and planning considerations of each site.

Improvements in Completeness and Timeliness of Shelter Data, Including a Web Portal, Would Enhance Responsiveness. Local and state shelter “boards" act as repositories of sheltering data, but the usefulness and reliability of local data are affected by the ability of local staff to keep these data up-to-date. Shelter data could be improved through use of a single statewide shelter management and registration system, which would allow localities to directly register shelter residents into a system, and enable VDEM’s WebEOC system to automatically display real-time shelter data. Real-time shelter data from WebEOC could then be displayed on a public-facing website.