Hurricane exercise prepares VNG for rapid response

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned the Norfolk-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team help clear a road of fallen trees and keep traffic moving Aug. 4, 2020, in Onancock, Virginia. (Photo Courtesy 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery)

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia National Guard Joint Staff completed a virtual hurricane tabletop exercise Aug. 17, 2020, focused on improving the VNG’s ability to rapidly respond to hazardous weather events in a COVID-19 environment. More than 50 Soldiers, Airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force took part in the exercise.

“The Virginia National Guard must remain ready and responsive even in a COVID environment where much of our team is having to apply military art and science in a distributive environment,” explained Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, Director of VNG Joint Staff. “Such exercises are imperative. They require the staff to refine their internal process and assists our teams in addressing the joint capabilities that we bring to the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The notional hurricane was named “Hurricane Troy” and was identified as a major hurricane located in the Atlantic Ocean and was forecasted to gain significant strength over the next 4-5 days. The exercise noted that the hurricane was projected to make landfall in vicinity of Hampton Roads. The VNG Joint Staff anticipated to support multiple mission sets and expected to conduct these missions while adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines due to COVID-19.

Joint staffs validated their internal task checklist identifying what needs to be completed when the hurricane is anticipating landfall 96, 72, 48, and 24 hours out. Staff sections took turns briefing their current actions, planning considerations, shortfalls, issues, concerns as well as various reports that would be submitted for each segment of time leading up to the hurricane and executing hurricane recovery efforts. This exercise was conducted on a remote work environment allowing for chat, video and document collaboration. 

After successful completion of the staff training exercise, the hurricane TTX improved the joint staffs’ proficiency, Ring said. It also served as an opportunity to become familiar with various tools used for planning and execution during the event of a real hurricane. The members were also able to conduct an internal assessment of the standard operating procedures within their sections to ensure that they are valid in the current environment. 

Recently, the Virginia National Guard Soldiers used chain saws to help clear roads and assisted with keeping traffic moving Aug. 4, 2020, after Tropical Storm Isaias left a path of fallen trees and debris at multiple locations across Virginia. To read more, visit
https://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2020/08/06/15444/.

Virginians are encouraged to consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines preparedness, response, and recovery actions designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health.

“Whether we are mobilizing 40 Soldiers on the Eastern Shore for possible impacts from a tropical storm, assisting with Virginia’s COVID-19 response or staging 1,500 Soldiers across the commonwealth like we did for Hurricane Florence, the Virginia National Guard continues to demonstrate it can rapidly respond with the assistance requested by Virginia localities,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia after Soldiers were staged and ready for TS Isaias. “Our men and women leave their families and their jobs on short notice so they can help keep their fellow citizens safe, and I thank them for how quickly they responded to the call of duty. We get a tremendous sense of pride being part of the multi-agency state team and making a difference in our communities.”

No matter where you live in Virginia, hazardous weather could impact you or your loved ones, so everyone should have a plan and emergency supplies ready. All members of the Virginia National Guard are encouraged to review their plan and go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters, and more.

Ring stressed that if you live in the Hampton Roads area, you should “Know Your Zone” and the appropriate actions to take in advance of hurricane threat.

Virginians are encouraged to consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines preparedness, response, and recovery actions designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health. Download the guide at https://www.vaemergency.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Hurricane-Evacuation-Guide-2020-COVID-19-Edit-Press-Ready-2.pdf

Recommendations for Virginians from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management :

  • Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone. If internet or computer access is not available, call 2-1-1 to learn your zone. Residents not residing in a pre-identified evacuation zone should listen to evacuation orders from local and state emergency agencies to determine if and when to evacuate.
  • Make a plan. Virginians residing in eastern and coastal Virginia should consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines ways to prepare for both weather and pandemic-related risks. Additional planning resources are available at ready.gov/plan.
  • Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, emergency kits should include face coverings and sanitization supplies.
  • Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.

For more information about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats visit VAemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes.

Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/index.html.