RD784 - Virginia Comprehensive Emergency Management 2020 Annual Report

Executive Summary:

Over the past year, the rise, frequency, and impact of disaster events kept pace as the Commonwealth again faced one of the busiest years on record. The 2019 hurricane season saw a number of large storms with Hurricane Dorian playing a central role causing significant rainfall and flooding. 2020 began with a historic pro-2nd Amendment rally at the Virginia Capitol, where more than 22,000 armed attendees gathered to share their concerns. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived shortly thereafter and changed the disaster landscape for generations to come.

The enormity of the once-in-a-century event forced the Commonwealth to reexamine the definition and role of government, and how to leverage the state’s physical and personnel assets to preserve the health and well-being of our neighbors and our communities — especially those who have been historically and disproportionately impacted by disasters. The Commonwealth took extensive steps to ensure life safety while simultaneously balancing the economic effects of those decisions.

As directed by the Governor, VDEM activated the Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) to bolster the Virginia Department of Health in its effort to combat the rapidly growing virus. This effort eventually included dozens of state agencies and hundreds of state employees laying the foundation for an incident that would soon test the resources and resolve of our country and our Commonwealth.

As of December 10, 2020, the VEST has been activated for a record 269 days straight for the COVID-19 pandemic; coordinating the acquisition of over 195,000,000 pieces of personal protective equipment to include masks (cloth, surgical and respirator), gloves, patient and service provider gowns, protective coveralls, face shields, goggles, boot and hair covers, non-contact thermometers etc. Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized and at-risk populations across Virginia, the VEST Unified Command was designed to include experts focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Health Equity Leadership Taskforce serves as a direct report to the Unified Command leadership and provides guidance to various COVID-19 working groups on prioritizing the needs of communities of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized and at-risk populations. The Taskforce is supported by the Health Equity Working Group composed of stakeholders from within state government, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and the private sectorthat provide insights on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. Prioritizing equity as a key feature of the ongoing response has resulted in diverse and inclusive massive print and digital awareness campaigns, health equity-driven pilot project that provides personal protective equipment to our most vulnerable communities, the live interpretation of press conferences, and the translation of incident-related documents and social media into 6 languages.

While the Commonwealth was facing the COVID-19 pandemic, we also experienced significant social movements that required resources and personnel throughout the summer, as well as the busiest hurricane season on record. The VEST was activated for a record setting three disaster declarations – at the same time. With economic impacts of COVID-19 reaching into the billions, the Commonwealth will require sustained operations to ensure that the pandemic is kept in check until a vaccine has been approved and distributed.

This report will provide you with a snapshot of the various projects and efforts of our agency, but what it is unable to capture, is the amount of work that VDEM team members have poured into these responses as they dealt with a virtual work environment, took care of their loved ones, experienced COVID-related deaths, were touched by the social movements personally, and balanced innumerable stressors that resulted from this year’s events. Although VDEM is a small agency, we stand ready to support our local, state, and federal partners as we work together to ensure the safety and well-being of all Virginians.

/s/ Curtis Brown
State Coordinator