RD785 - Virginia Comprehensive Emergency Management 2021 Annual Report

Executive Summary:

In the past year (and before that as well), the word “resilience" has come to hold many meanings concerning the state of our Commonwealth. The events and experiences described in this report have stretched our capacity to respond to historic crises, which have dramatically altered the space of disaster management. These dynamic and evolving threats forced our agency to evolve, adapt, and pivot again and again, often within the course of an afternoon to meet the needs of this rapidly changing landscape. As this report is written during the 2021 hurricane season, we will undoubtedly see more than a dozen significant storm events, and possibly more. Last year, Hurricane Elsa was the first hurricane of that season and made a direct track through Virginia bringing with it rainfall and tropical storm-force winds to wide swaths of the Commonwealth.

Currently, the Commonwealth is dealing with substantial flash flooding and destruction in western Virginia left in the wake of ten inches of rainfall that fell in less than 90 minutes. There has been a continued push to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with free and accessible vaccination sites that have allowed Virginia to achieve the 70% vaccination rate for adults set by President Biden in the first year of his administration. The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack which disrupted critical infrastructure and caused regional fuel shortages is still fresh in the state’s consciousness, highlighting the diverse and emergent threats we are facing. Our team has also shifted significant resources, literally overnight, to assist with the repatriation of thousands of Americans, and the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans for Operation Allies Welcome. The numerous, high-profile incidents in which we have been engaged, validated the force-multiplying effect of a whole- of- government approach. The current disaster management landscape has been shaped in the wake of a global virus and has required us to conceptualize how to leverage the state’s physical and personnel assets to expand capacity in the maintenance of the welfare of our neighbors and our communities — especially those who have been historically and disproportionately impacted by disasters. Unfortunately, the pace and complexity of these incidents has also shown that our agency, and the emergency management enterprise as a whole, is dramatically underfunded and under-resourced.

VDEM works collaboratively, fostering intergovernmental dialogue with local government, state, tribal, and federal agencies, and other private, non-profit, and voluntary organizations. The most apparent example was the effort to combat the rapidly growing virus where under the direction of the Governor, dozens of state agencies and hundreds of state employees laid the foundation for an incident that has tested the resources and resolve of our country and our Commonwealth. This led to the largest Unified Command structure, and the largest Joint Information Center, and the corresponding communications campaign in Virginia’s history.

This year witnessed the concurrent support of five disaster events by the Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST), which included the COVID-19 pandemic. There were a total of eight events in the past year which required VEST activation or support. In response to the pandemic, the VEST and VDEM regional staff coordinated the acquisition of over 195,000,000 pieces of personal protective equipment, the setup of 12 State Supported Community Vaccination Centers and deployment of 148 Mobile Vaccination Clinics as well as the administration of more than 490,000 vaccinations. Fifteen swiftwater rescue teams were immediately deployed from across the state to assist in disaster rescue and recovery efforts from flash rainfall and mudslides in Buchanan County. Continued responses during protests, cybersecurity threats, and supporting regional response to events beyond the Commonwealth’s borders have required not only sustained operations but also an increase in resources and scalability of operations.

This report reflects the work VDEM has undertaken in the last year. It is not only a summary of current data sets and information but also the dedicated work of the more than 150 members who comprise the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Although VDEM is a small agency, we stand ready to support our local, state, tribal, and federal partners as we work collaboratively to ensure the safety and well-being of all Virginians. Our efforts continue beyond the scope of one single incident, threat, or disaster to develop the resources that expand our capabilities to meet the ever expanding scope of emergency management. It is a challenge we are proud to meet to push forward development in the creation of a resilient and ready Virginia.

/s/ Curtis Brown
State Coordinator