Virginia Department of Emergency Management hosts preparedness workshop

State Coordinator Jeff Stern says event to improve response to elderly, disabled Virginians' needs

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State Coordinator Jeff Stern cited the aftermath of hurricanes such as Sandy as part of the reason for the workshop's creation.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Portlight Strategies Inc. and the Hampton Roads Regional Catastrophic Planning Team hosted a “Getting It Right” workshop Tuesday and Wednesday to promote emergency preparedness and response.

The various organizations partnered to explore how to provide equal access to programs, services and activities related to emergencies and disasters.

The workshop, held in Newport News, featured speakers including representatives from the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross.

State Coordinator Jeff Stern helped organize the event and said previous emergencies demonstrate the need for the workshop.

“Catastrophic disasters like hurricanes Sandy and Katrina have brought attention to the needs of the most vulnerable populations,” Stern said. “This workshop will help us to improve the way we plan for and respond to the needs of older Virginians, people with disabilities and their families.”

Susan Mongold, VDEM director of training and exercises, said VDEM has been assessing the regional needs of communities throughout Virginia for several years leading up the workshop.

“Through ongoing programs like this we are working to promote self determination of needs and issues with respect to disaster preparedness and response,” Mongold said. “We aim to foster community relations with those agencies to promote inclusiveness in preparedness and response plans as well as transportation and shelter accessibility.”

Mongold said the efforts from VDEM will be ongoing.

“It was a continuing process of making sure [VDEM is] providing opportunities to educate and include the whole community and do what truly needs to be done to be inclusive with planning…that includes everyone in the community,” Mongold said. “It’s just a continuing education and outreach initiative.”

Support for emergency preparedness inclusivity comes from more than just VDEM. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been a strong proponent of the initiative as well.

“This is supported all the way through the top of our government,” Mongold said.

Mongold said she hopes the “Getting It Right” workshop will help Virginia to be more proactive with emergency preparedness.

“We want to be ahead,” she said. “We want to say, ‘What can we do better? Help us figure out how,’ instead of having an incident where someone then says, ‘Look where you failed. Now you have a problem.’”

Portlight Strategies Inc. has presented similar “Getting It Right” workshops in New Jersey, Georgia and South Carolina.

“Other states are doing [similar initiatives], I would say,” Mongold said. “It’s not only a state initiative, its a national initiative.”

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