Category Archives: Disaster planning

The Economics of Flood Control in Virginia

Hampton Roads base flood – 1% annual risk

by James C. Sherlock

We have work to do, and need to do it quickly and well.

  • If we want to get storm defenses built before major storm damage rather than after; and
  • if we want the federal government to pay 65% of the costs.

Let’s assume we do.

The “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework” appears to be heading in a direction that may miss important pieces of any benefit/cost assessment. And those assessments drive federal interest.

The assumption in Framework going forward appears to be that the value of flood protection is in loss avoidance. Exclusively. 

Indeed, all of the work that I can find in flooding assessments Virginia is put towards the goal of understanding the costs of such losses.

Not sufficient, but fixable. Continue reading

Louisiana Shows How Flood Control Can Work at Massive Scale

by James C. Sherlock

Louisiana has half the population of Virginia. Virginia is ranked the 18th richest state in per capita income, Louisiana 48th.

So, why has Louisiana been so phenomenally successful in flood control efforts since Katrina while Virginia writes its own framework for action that it is too expensive here?

Primarily because Louisiana figured out after Katrina that:

  1. the feds simultaneously have all the flood control resources — money, expertise, experience, scale — that states do not have, and both write the regulations and regulate flood control.
  2. the state had to organize both the state and local governments to deal with the federal government with a single voice.

The new agency charged with that monumental and immediate task, while quickly and iteratively creating itself, was the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana.

There is much for Virginians to know about and learn from Louisiana’s success. You will see that the Bayou State has way bigger flooding problems to solve than does Virginia.

Their success must be a model for us.

Yet the Commonwealth seems hell bent on ignoring the methods that enabled that success. Our leaders also deny that engineered defenses, “castles,” are even affordable as part of the solution set in Virginia. Each idea is both ill considered and dangerous.

I will describe briefly how Louisiana has done its part in this. Continue reading

Development and Sea-Level Rise in the Tarheel State

by James A. Bacon

People love living on the water. They just can’t get enough of it. If they can’t afford to live on the waterfront, they will pay a premium just to live near it. Signs of the human proclivity for water views are evident all around Beaufort, N.C. (pronounced Bow-fort, not Bew-fort), a waterfront town of 4,000 to 5,000. The heart of Beaufort is a charming hamlet dating back to the 1700s. The walkable small-town core with restaurants, boutiques, marinas and quaint historical buildings is the nucleus from which development radiates in all directions.

Coastal North Carolina in these parts, just south of the Outer Banks, is as low-lying and vulnerable to flooding and hurricanes as Tidewater Virginia. I know nothing of what preparations the Tarheel state might be taking in anticipation of the kind of extreme weather events that Jim Sherlock has described in recent posts. I will simply observe that whatever restrictions exist, they don’t seem to be slowing the pace of development on the state’s barrier islands and along its sounds, channels and estuaries. Continue reading

Virginia Has a Rising Sea Problem, Relatively

Ninety years of relative sea level rise (SLR) at Norfolk’s Sewells Point gauge, with mean lines added by Kip Hansen. It is about two-third due to sinking land, one-third due to long term absolute SLR, and in no way due to modern CO2 emissions.

by Steve Haner and Kip Hansen

When discussing sea level rise, on Virginia’s coast or anywhere else, watch the terms being used very carefully. Absolute sea level is the height of the ocean compared to the center of the Earth. Relative sea level is the height of the ocean compared to a specific point on the shore. They are not the same. Continue reading

The Other Side of the “Intensifying Rain” Claim

Prepared by Kip Hansen. Data sources cited. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner and Kip Hansen

With the rainy remnants of another hurricane heading for Virginia from battered Louisiana, the stories of a coming Climate Armageddon will again ramp up. A couple of good examples of what to expect recently appeared in Virginia Mercury, the main one quoting numerous sources claiming Virginia is seeing more and more intense rainfall and will suffer more flooding as a result. Continue reading

Herd Immunity from the Delta Variant – “Mythical”

Image by Spencer Davis from Pixabay

To vax or not to vax? I’m vaccinated. I think everybody who is eligible to be vaccinated should get vaccinated.  Jim Bacon makes the excellent point that people who are vaccinated may still get COVID but are far less likely to die from the virus. Others believe that vaccinations will confer herd immunity to the population as a whole if only enough people get vaccinated. Not so claims a world renowned virologist. Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group and a leading epidemiologist, calls herd immunity from the Delta variant “not a possibility” and “mythical.” If herd immunity really is “mythical,” is there a public health basis to mandate vaccines? The pro vax mandate crowd has continually compared the COVID vaccinations to vaccinations against diseases like polio. But if herd immunity is “not a possibility,” where do we stand? Continue reading

Coming to Virginia – a New State of Emergency?

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

The Governor’s 15-month emergency powers expired June 30, and, God, does he miss them.

From The Virginian-Pilot:

“School districts that aren’t requiring masks, including several in Hampton Roads, are running afoul of state law, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday.”

OK.

The bigger questions are

  • how long the governor will put up with the lack of emergency powers;
  • when he will start to follow Virginia’s Pandemic Emergency Annex to its Emergency Operations Plan; and
  • is the General Assembly even interested?

Continue reading

The Accelerating Scale of the Legislate-Regulate-Spend-and-Repeat Cycle Has Broken Government

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians – the state and individual citizens – have received over $81 billion in COVID-related federal funding. That comes to $9,507 for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.  Big money. 

That was Virginia’s share of $5.3 trillion in federal spending just on the pandemic (so far). A trillion dollars is a million million dollars. A thousand billion dollars.

For comparison, GDP was about $21 trillion in 2020  It is projected to total just short of $23 trillion this year.  The national debt is $29 trillion and growing. A little over $86,000 for every American. That figure does not include the $5 trillion in additional spending pending in the Congress.

Every day we spend $1 billion on interest with interest on the 10-year treasuries at 1.18% today. The Congressional budget office predicts 3.6% before 2027. Do the math. That is $3 billion a day — well over a trillion dollars a year — in interest. 

Relax. If you thought I was about to launch off on a discussion of drunken sailors, writing checks that our grandkids will have to make good, and the fact that inflation will drive interest payments ever upward, be reassured I am not.

This is about the demonstrated inability of many government agencies at every level to regulate, administer, oversee, spend and repeat with anything approaching efficiency or effectiveness.  Continue reading

No PAC for Disaster Preparedness and Response

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s responses to COVID were a continuing national embarrassment. 

  • Individual Virginia department and agencies had no operational pandemic response plans. They ignored specific and prescient directions to build and exercise such plans in the dormant Virginia Pandemic Emergency Plan. VDEM then attempted a coverup.
  • No PPE stockpiles. Last in testing. Last in vaccinations. Hospitals first, physicians last in every decision by the VDH. 
  • Last in distribution of unemployment checks. 
  • The General Assembly was given and took no role in pandemic response for 15 months.
  • The Canterbury nursing home scandal. State nursing home inspections that failed to report staffing shortages. The directly related shortages in staffing of state inspectors.
  • The failure to sanction teachers unions for strike threats in Northern Virginia during COVID. The officially sanctioned lapse in school accountability.
  • Poorly prepared official press conferences that often added confusion rather than clarity.

This was in its totality the biggest government scandal in Virginia history.

Continue reading

We Are Losing Sight of Public Health in Vaccination Debates

by James C. Sherlock

We in the process of losing our collective minds.

I read a story in the Roanoke Times by LuAnne Rife “One-third of Virginia’s long-term care workers declined COVID-19 vaccinations, as homes reopen to visitors.

We read other stories about teachers refusing vaccinations. They do it pointing to the fact that the vaccines are still under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).

Some parents, going with the flow, refuse to vaccinate their children not just for COVID when those vaccines are available for children, but for the MMR vaccine already mandatory for school attendance in Virginia.

Some teachers and students then “demand” that the schools accommodate their preferences. Cue the anti-vaxxer hysteria.

We got to this point partly because the culture’s political and media elites spent eight months prior to the federal election conditioning the American public, who before COVID by and large did not spend five minutes a year worrying about vaccinations, to think of vaccines as dangerous. Especially if President Trump’s FDA approved them.

They did it for political reasons. Now they need to help fix what they broke. Continue reading

An Important Challenge to Employees of the Commonwealth

by James C. Sherlock

I ask the employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia to be agents for its positive change. I will address you directly.

The issue is state readiness, or rather lack of it, for the COVID epidemic. You are in the best position to know that your agency was surprised and overwhelmed when COVID struck.

It did not need to be that way.

I have written here extensively of the failure of state departments to prepare for a pandemic flu emergency as they were directed to do by the state emergency operations plan published in 2012. Those directed preparations included planning, training and exercises that involved you, the professional staff of state agencies.

Many of you know that none of that happened in your organizations.

I filed complaints with the Office of the State Inspector General who is employed specifically to investigate such issues. But I think the complaints of an outsider will go nowhere.

The fault for lack of preparation lies with so broad a swath of the executive department of the state that only a high volume of inside complaints will drive the investigation and thus the changes that are necessary.

I am going to ask you as employees to engage to fix the system from within. Continue reading

Fire State Officials Who Failed Us in COVID

by James C. Sherlock

If senior members of the state bureaucracies escape accountability for their failures before and during COVID, the agency cultures won’t change and it will happen again.  

I am going to review below the extent of their written responsibilities for pandemic planning and the high quality planning support they were given before COVID struck.  

It is clear that the planning framework, guidance and assumptions from 2012 proved prescient in COVID.  

Those responsibilities were widely ignored within the government of Virginia in the nearly eight years between when the directive was published and COVID struck. Readers can judge for themselves how much it mattered that the required planning was not carried out.

Post-COVID “lessons learned” written by the state bureaucracies will be utterly insufficient if left to stand alone. There is only one overarching lesson learned. Some did not do their jobs and people died as a direct result. Continue reading

Virginia’s Covid Vaccination Plan – Nothing to Exercise

by James C. Sherlock

I have read a lot of speculation here on who is responsible for the mess that has been the distribution and administration of COVID vaccines.

I will try offer some clarification.

On a day-to-day basis, people get flu shots or shingles shots or whatever from a lot of different providers. The normal pharmaceutical distribution system handles the supply chain.

Emergency planning guidance for pandemic emergency distribution and administration of vaccines is contained in Virginia’s famously shy Emergency Operations Plan – HAZARD-SPECIFIC ANNEX #4 PANDEMIC INFLUENZA RESPONSE of 2012.

Planning assumptions included:

– 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. …
– 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.

Policies: Continue reading

Virginia Pandemic Emergency Plan Was Never Exercised


by James C. Sherlock

As we suspected, Virginia did not exercise its Pandemic Emergency Plan from the time it was published in 2012 until COVID-19 struck.

I received the following response today to a FOIA request I sent to the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Emergency Management:

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) received your February 13, 2021, email regarding a document request. In that request, you seek:

“Existing VDEM records of Virginia state, regional, and local participation in the National Exercise Program since 2012 at every level of training and exercises that addressed Infectious Disease and Biological Incidents.”

VDEM does not have any documentation that meets the requirements of your request. As a result, pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3704.B.3, VDEM notes that no records or data exists in response to your request.

Is “oops” a good enough response for the Governor? It appears so.

Buy Bacon’s Book

By Peter Galuszka

This is a shameless advertisement. Jim has written an excellent book and you should buy it and review it.

While some of Jim’s focus is at odds with a similar book I wrote eight years ago, “Maverick Miner” is a really well put together effort at research and writing.

In my reporting, I asked many people, mostly miners, what they thought about E. Morgan Massey. The response: tough on unions but good guy. I heard this over and over. I was told that if rank and file miners had a serious problem, they could call Morgan and he’d come to the mountains to work things out. I heard this a lot and it gives credence to Jim’s book.

You should buy the book, read it, and like it or not, post something on Amazon. Here’s something I did:

“In this book, Jim Bacon, a Richmond journalist, tells a fascinating story about 94-year-old E. Morgan Massey, the former head of coal company that would become highly controversial. Massey paid Bacon to write a private narrative about the Massey family and agreed to let Bacon write his own unabridged account. Taken as a biography and while understanding that this is from Massey’s viewpoint, the result works very well. Massey explains why he hired Donald L. Blankenship, who achieved remarkable notoriety as the boss of Massey Energy, a company spinoff. He ended up in federal prison. The book underestimates the human and environmental cost of coal mining in the Central Appalachians. It also takes Massey’s side in dissecting what caused the April 5, 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners – the worst such U.S. coal disaster in 40 years. Even so, Bacon’s access to internal sources and records is a welcome contribution to understanding a great story.

Peter Galuszka is author of “Thunder on the Mountain: Death At Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal.” (St. Martin’s Press, 2012)