Local emergency managers study Harvey’s impact

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Emergency managers across Hampton Roads are closely watching the deadly flooding in Texas and taking note of lessons learned from Harvey.

“We’ll be talking about Harvey for years,” said Robb Braidwood, Deputy Coordinator of Emergency Management for the City of Chesapeake. “One of the things that we’re looking at is just the huge deluge of rain, and when you have a historic event like this, what is hard to relate to the public is, there’s basically almost nothing you can do. There is no water control system in the country that can handle this level of water,” he said.

Just a few inches of rain combined with tidal flooding can make streets in Hampton Roads impassable. If we saw a forecast close to the level of rainfall reached in Texas this week, Braidwood said Chesapeake would evacuate low-lying areas, likely days in advance.

“It’s that kind of planning that we want the citizens to take ownership of because we do not have the capacity to shelter everybody and we would have situations that would be as bad as you’re seeing in Houston…It is so difficult to order evacuations based on rain, because you just don’t know exactly where it’s going to fall. You don’t know what neighborhoods are going to flood,” Braidwood said.

Norfolk’s Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response, Jim Redick, said Norfolk has an emergency planning committee that meets monthly and annual discussions on evacuations.

“Things can happen. A lot of times we try to fight complacency. Our primary threat seems to be a hurricane or tropical storm, but rain bombs like this, it can happen,” Redick said.

Depending on the level of flooding here, residents forced to relocate could get help from religious communities.

“We’re looking specifically at our houses of worship. They can provide a huge help to us here in Norfolk and Hampton Roads because they’re there,” Redick said.

The biggest takeaway he sees from Harvey is the level of cooperation.

“They seem to understand that they are the help until help arrives and we can also see what that help is through state and federal resources all converging…It’s important to have those conversations now, to get affiliated with volunteer organizations, either through the Community Emergency Response Team, Medical Reserve Corps, Red Cross, Operation Blessing, Salvation Army,” Redick said.

Braidwood said the use of social media to coordinate rescues and deliver aid in Texas has been a “game changer.”

“You saw rescues being effected, Coast Guard being deployed to people’s homes through Twitter, which, I really don’t think that’s ever happened before,” he said.