Hampton Roads is in full swing with two, “first of their kind” in all of Virginia overnight emergency shelter exercises for people with disabilities and access /functional needs. The City of Norfolk hosted the first exercise for the Southside area of the region on April 6-7 at Norview High School. This type of exercise is unique in that Hampton Roads residents with real disabilities and access and functional needs (not players), along with their caregivers and family members, camped out Norview, learned the basics of personal preparedness, went through the registration and medical triage process, watched a movie, slept on cots and provided valuable feedback to shelter staff on their experiences. The HRPDC’s All Hazards Advisory Committee, along with its Inclusive Emergency Planning Subcommittee approved both of these distinctive exercises and received funding from the Eastern Virginia Healthcare Coalition (EVHC) as well as the State Homeland Security Grant via the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). Local and regional shelter staff, along with other volunteer organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Southern Baptist and the Salvation Army generously provided staff and home-cooked meals and snacks for the participants. The City of Norfolk Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response, Jim Redick, led a group discussion and received positive and helpful feedback from the participants. Cheryl Simpson (The Endependence Center), Jenny Redick (HRPDC) and Elaina Dariah (2-1-1 of Virginia) gave a short preparedness workshop for participants, and each one received an emergency preparedness kit and helpful information on how best to prepare. An After Action Report will be compiled and lesson learned with be shared with the region and those other regions in Virginia who may wish to replicate these cutting edge exercise. Other regions outside Hampton Roads took part as observers for the exercise, including Fairfax County Emergency Management.
Prior to this first exercise on the Southside, an all-day Disability Inclusive Emergency Management workshop was hosted by the HRPDC on April 2 for all shelter-related staff, emergency management and first responders on the Southside. Marcie Roth, former FEMA Director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, and now Chief Executive Officer of Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies was the keynote speaker for the workshop. Cheryl Simpson, Endependence Center, and other local experts representing different types of disabilities as panelists, partnered with Ms. Roth to bring local perspective and expertise. The same workshop and overnight emergency shelter exercise will take place for the Peninsula on June 26 at the Newport News Police Department and Hampton’s George P. Phenix School on June 29-30. Marcie Roth will partner again with local experts by working with Mr. Ralph Shelman and Ms. Cathy Tyler-Northan (both of IEPCIL) and other local disability advocates and educators.
Active planning and coordination is underway for the Peninsula training and exercise, as the City of Hampton has graciously volunteered to host. City of Hampton Human Services, Emergency Management, Fire & EMS, Public health, Insight Enterprises Inc. Peninsula Center for Independent Living, Versability Resources and other locality emergency management partners are working together as a planning team. Similar to the Southside exercise, evaluators and observers will attend from across the Hampton Roads region and chime in on planning gaps and strengths. Again, self- advocates, who are generously giving of their time and feedback, will bring back important preparedness information to others in their communities and have a better perspective of how best to prepare. Registration for residents who wish to participate in the exercise on June 29-30 is now live at http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07efbyvnwvd427615e&llr=f87jftcab&showPage=true. Potential registrants from across the region (You do not have to be a City of Hampton resident to participate.) can sign up here - https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07efbyvnwvd427615e&oseq=&c=&ch=. Each registrant will be contacted to confirm their information and address any questions or concerns they may have. A concerted effort is being made to make sure a variety of disabilities and access/functional needs are represented by our community of volunteers and caregivers/family members.
Team work has definitely been the key ingredient to accomplishing and planning for these innovative exercises and multiple organizations, including government agencies and disability advocacy organizations cities/localities are working together to plan, share best practices, man the shelter, observe and officially evaluate for important lessons learned to take back to their communities and improve inclusive sheltering for the entire region.