All According to Plan – the Biggest Government Scandal in Virginia History

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Mercury published  an excellent article on the difficulties being encountered in Virginia in scheduling COVID shots.

But who could have anticipated the need? Who indeed.

This story is part of the single biggest government scandal in Virginia history and the press is either ignorant of the underlying issue or has ignored it. I think ignorance is more likely. Certainly Governor Northam’s executive branch made every effort to hide it from them.

I say the executive branch because I firmly believe — and hope really — the Governor himself never had a clue.

The now-hidden-from-public-view Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan, Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical), Virginia Department of Emergency Management August 2012 (the Plan) required planning and exercise of a vaccine distribution plan and much more.

Never happened.

The Plan specified planning, exercise and operational responsibilities for
the following executive branch organizations:

Lead Agency – Virginia Department of Emergency Management

Support Agencies and Organizations

  • Department of Education
  • State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
  • Virginia Community College System
  • Department of Social Services
  • Department of Human Resource Management
  • Virginia State Police
  • Virginia Department of Fire Programs
  • VDH, Office of EMS (joint responsibilities)
  • Virginia Department of Health
  • Department of Labor and Industry, Occupational Safety and Health
  • Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • Department of Military Affairs
  • Virginia Department of Transportation
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Virginia Employment Commission

I’m going to focus on just three: VDEM, VDH and VEC.

From the Virginia Department of Emergency Management:

The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) is comprised of more than 300 credentialed members, the VEST draws its staff from more than 40 State Agencies, dozens of NGOs, and private sector companies such as Verizon and Dominion. During steady state operations, VEST training is conducted nearly every week on a variety of emergency management topics.

That “variety of emergency management topics” clearly did not include pandemic response.

The Plan clearly lay undiscovered in file drawers all over Richmond for years until too late. But the government, as always most highly motivated by self protection, roared to life to remove the Plan from public view. Mission accomplished I guess.

That done, the government of Virginia stumbled every step of the way.

I will address only a few general elements of that plan and three specific responsibilities: pre-pandemic storage of emergency supplies, vaccine distribution and unemployment response.

The Plan


The Plan was written for the Commonwealth by contractors paid by the federal government to ensure it was coherent with federal plans.

Planning Assumptions (a few of many listed)

  • Pre-event planning is critical to ensure a prompt and effective response to a pandemic influenza, as its spread will be rapid, recurring (in multiple waves), and difficult to stop once it begins.
  • Due to the universal susceptibility of the public to an influenza virus and the anticipated pervasive impact on all segments of society, the majority of the medical and non-medical consequences of the event will be addressed by the public and private sectors in the context of the existing emergency management framework, supporting infrastructure, available resources, and associated supply chains with marginal support from new or external parties.
  • Although technical assistance and support will be available through the federal government prior to, during, and following the event period, it will be limited in contrast to other natural and human-caused events that impact a specific geographic area in a more defined, shorter, and nonrecurring timeframe.
  • Vaccines will not be available for approximately six months following identification of the virus and will be in limited quantities when made available, necessitating the need to develop and implement a distribution plan.

A requirement for a vaccine distribution plan —  established in 2012.


All agencies assigned responsibilities within this annex will develop and maintain the necessary plans, standard operating procedures, mutual aid agreements, and model contracts to successfully accomplish their tasks.

Still waiting.

Concept of Operations

…The VDH plan and this annex represent the Commonwealth’s overall plan to respond and recover from a pandemic influenza outbreak.

Good to know.

Measures to Procure and Stockpile Additional Supplies

Existing measures to provide for needed medical and non-medical stockpiles include

  • Virginia’s purchase of an antiviral stockpile (maintained by a contract vendor responsible for storage and emergency distribution), Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) caches in Virginia’s three (3) MMRS areas (Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads),
  • hospital supplies provided through Health Resources and Services Administration/Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (HRSA/ASPR) grants,
  • supplies purchased by the Health Districts and stored onsite for immediate response purposes, and
  • the Commonwealth of Virginia Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) Plan for federal stockpile assets. Virginia may also request federal assets through the use of the FEMA Action Request Form process as described in the SNS Plan.

Anyone believe that Virginia had provisioned any of those stockpiles and caches? Anybody ever heard of them during the COVID pandemic?

I must have missed the Governor’s press conference in which he discussed them.

Roles & Responsibilities

In each case I have selected a few of the Plan responsibilities for illustration. The full list is in the plan.

ALL Virginia Emergency Response Team (now called Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST)) Agencies:
1. Exercise, train, and refine continuity plans with an emphasis on pandemic influenza.
2. Provide pandemic influenza related education and training.
3. Review agency communications plan.
4. Review resource inventories and sustainability of supply chains.

Or not.

Virginia Department of Health

Activate the clinical pandemic influenza plan.

Still waiting.

Virginia Employment Commission

  • Coordinate the provision of basic unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Provide written and on-line information on employment services, job referral, job development, employer information.
  • Coordinate the provision of Disaster Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Extended UI Benefits when deemed appropriate by DOLI.

Look how well that went.

Response Phases

Stage 1 – Suspected Human Outbreak Overseas

1. Review and exercise the VDH pandemic influenza plan.
6. Review and adjust inventories of selected resources.
7. Coordinate with suppliers.

Stage 2 – Confirmed Human Outbreak Overseas

1. Declare a “public health emergency.”
2. Review and activate appropriate plans.
8. Review and implement anti-viral distribution plans.

Stage 3 – Widespread Outbreaks Overseas

2. Prepare to implement surge plans.
3. Review and implement anti-viral distribution plans.

Stage 4 – First Human-to-Human Case in North America

2. Prepare to implement surge plans.
3. Review and implement anti-viral distribution plans.
5. Implement antiviral treatment/targeted prophylaxis.

I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

What must be done?

The citizens of Virginia through our elected representatives must demand accountability for this deadly failure to carry out written responsibilities. Incompetence is apparent, but an insufficient defense. This cannot be OK.

The Governor must fire the head of every agency that failed to carry out its Plan responsibilities to set an example for future state department heads. If that is done, there will never be another one that will fail to keep abreast of his or her emergency responsibilities.

Which is the point.

Finally, where is the General Assembly on this utter and deadly failure of the executive branch? Where was the Attorney General in his consumer protection role?

Given the Virginia Way, action in the public interest in this matter, as in most, is highly unlikely because there are no lobbyists and no campaign donations attached to the issue, just a lot of dead people.

But it makes me feel better to write about it.