Category Archives: Disaster planning

For Virginia, Nobody’s Home in the Congressional Infrastructure and Appropriations Committees

by James C. Sherlock

Incredible and statistically unlikely as it sounds, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not a single member on either of the Congressional House or Senate Committees that decide what infrastructure projects are authorized, or on either Appropriations Committee that decides what is spent on such projects and on everything else.

Those projects include the water resources projects such as hurricane and flood mitigation that we have been discussing this week.

The Committees in question are:

  • Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (11 R, 10 D),
  • House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (37D, 30R) and
  • Appropriations Committees of the House (23 R and 30 D) and Senate (16 R 15 D).

That is a total of 120 House members and 52 senators. And we got swept. Virginia may be unique among the states with zero representation on any of those committees. Continue reading

If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

Roanoke flooding in 1985

by James C. Sherlock

There were lots of comments in my last post about government programs to mitigate flooding damage in flood plains, specifically about buying and tearing down houses that repeatedly flood.

One of the carrots to do so is Community Rating System (CRS) discounts to flood insurance in communities that take an active role in flood plain risk mitigation.

CRS is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It is an incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum program requirements.

When that happens, not only is the risk of flooding diminished, but flood insurance premium rates for all citizens of a community that accomplishes the goals are appropriately discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

To quote the program web page,

“For National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System participating communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

Continue reading

Virginia Has a Prayer

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Aug 27 at 9:46 AM

From the latest weather forecast:

Hurricane Laura is expected to strengthen into a Category 4 as it heads for a destructive landfall near the Texas and Louisiana border Wednesday night into early Thursday morning. A catastrophic storm surge and damaging winds will batter the region and a threat of flooding rain and strong winds will extend well inland. …

The hurricane is now a Category 3 with 125 mph winds and is expected to continue strengthening. Laura is forecast to become a Category 4 hurricane later today as it approaches the northwest Gulf Coast.

Laura’s maximum sustained winds jumped from 75 mph to 125 mph in the 24 hours ending 10 a.m. CDT Wednesday. That increase in maximum sustained winds easily meets the definition of rapid intensification in a hurricane.

Laura has prompted hurricane and storm surge warnings for the northwest Gulf Coast.

A huge amount of money over the past 13 years has been spent to create hurricane protection systems not only for Northwestern Texas, but especially in Louisiana. The Louisiana projects have been led by the Corps of Engineers and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and have completely transformed that region, not only with levees and pumping stations, but also with restoration of nearly 48,000 acres of land and 60 miles of barrier islands and berms. In Texas, the Galveston District of the Corps of Engineers has built seven major federal levees.

This storm will likely test the systems like no other.

So, while this is of interest to all Americans, why highlight it on a Virginia blog?

We care here because the two areas of the United States other than in Texas and Louisiana most threatened by a combination of sea level rise and storm surge are Miami and Hampton Roads.  The great Chesapeake and Potomac hurricane of 1933 flooded downtown Norfolk streets six feet deep — before the last 87 years of sea level rise and subsidence. Continue reading

Boomergeddon vs Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

by DJ Rippert

Saving America’s bacon. In 2010 Jim Bacon, blogrunner of this site, wrote a book titled Boomergeddon. The sub-title of the book is, “How Runaway Deficits and the Age Wave Will Bankrupt the Federal Government and Devastate Retirement for Baby Boomers Unless We Act Now.” The book is well written and contains considerable supporting detail but that sub-title pretty much sums things up. At the time of publication Bacon’s book amplified the conventional wisdom of the day — deficits are bad and, as our president might say, big deficits are bad bigly. That traditional belief has come under scrutiny lately. One leading critic of the theories espoused by Boomergeddon is Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University and former advisor to the Sanders campaign. Her new book, published in 2020, is titled, The Deficit Myth.  One paragraph from the description of Kellon’s book on Amazon.Com sums up her thesis vis-a-vis Boomergeddon. “Kelton busts through the myths that prevent us from taking action: that the federal government should budget like a household, that deficits will harm the next generation, crowd out private investment, and undermine long-term growth, and that entitlements are propelling us toward a grave fiscal crisis.” Kelton believes the United States has considerably more room to incur debt without causing economic harm and we should get about the business of incurring more debt. Paying homage to her Democratic-Socialist roots, Kellon sub-titled her book, “Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy.”

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BR’s COVID-19 Parallel Universe

By Peter Galuszka

Almost every morning, I wake up a little before dawn, make coffee, let the dog out and feed her and start reading the news.

I take The Washington Post in print along with The New York Times, Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian-Pilot, NBC News, various television stations and, of course, Bacon’s Rebellion online.

Later in the morning, I check out Blue Virginia, Virginia Mercury and RVA.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, every morning I step into two different universes.

One gives me the global and national view that jumps right in and explains where we are with the virus and who and what are at risk.

The other view, that of Bacon’s Rebellion, mostly paints a very different picture. This view insists that the pandemic is exaggerated and overrated, needless regulations are being enacted by a dictatorial governor, our school system and housing trends are at risk and we should open everything up right now. Continue reading

Why Do 58 Nursing Homes Lack PPE?

by Carol J. Bova

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) publishes COVID-19 data reported by nursing homes as of May 31. Only five Virginia facilities reported not having enough essential supplies for current use, but that still put the safety of 554 residents plus an unknown number of staff members at risk for COVID-19 or other infections.

Glenburnie Rehab and Manorcare–Imperial, both in Richmond, reported no current supplies of hand sanitizer, gloves, N-95 masks, surgical masks, eye protection or gowns.

Woodbine Rehabilitation in Alexandria reported no N-95 or surgical masks and no gowns.

Albemarle Health and Rehab in Charlottesville and The Springs Nursing Center in Hot Springs didn’t have any N-95 masks.

Looking ahead, CMS had also asked if nursing homes had a week’s supply of the five PPE items and hand sanitizer. Continue reading

Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

By Peter Galuszka

 In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department of York County and Poquoson got their very own tank-like vehicle, called a “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).”

Fully armored and tan in color with steep sides, it looks like something out television footage of the war in Iraq where U.S. troops needed to get through mine-infested streets and terrain safely.

But why do such generally sleepy communities such as these need a high-powered armored car? Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Digs told The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press that it isn’t meant to “intimidate people” but can be useful during adverse weather when trees are down. Really? Wouldn’t a pickup truck work?

The newspaper story is important since it combs through what Virginia law enforcement got after the “1033”Defense Department program started to sell surplus military gear to local law enforcement in 1997.

It notes that military surplus sales in Virginia went from $216,000 in 1999 to $853,824 in 2019, according to Defense Logistics Agency statistics. The latter number included the cost of another MRAP so Virginia Beach could get its very own armored truck. Over time, the City of Portsmouth got 87 M-16 assault rifles. Other goodies include night vision glasses. Continue reading

The Real Danger with ANTIFA

By Peter Galuszka

Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..

But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.

First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”

That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading

Reopening: Know and Avoid the Risks

Musical chairs goes viral

By DJ Rippert

The Bromage Broadcast. Erin Bromage is a professor of biology and a blogger. She will tell you that she’s not an expert epidemiologist but she recently wrote a blog entry that proves she is an eloquent writer when it comes to explaining the physics of Coronavirus to the layman. As Virginia reopens after the lockdown people will have to make personal decisions about what activities to undertake and what activities to avoid. Ms. Bromage’s plain English explanations make a good starting point for making such decisions.

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Virginia Disaster Law is Fatally Flawed

by James C. Sherlock

Executive Summary
It is an urgent legal necessity to revise the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Services and Disaster Law of 2000. That law has never been tested in court. It has many flaws that both hinder good governance in Virginia and will be exposed as potentially unconstitutional in any judicial review.

1. The law gives the governor authority to declare a state of emergency and thus activate his or her emergency powers without any review or authority to repeal the declaration by the General Assembly, even ex post facto. That gives the authority to the governor to grant himself the powers to both create offenses by decree and to police them.

2. The law gave the General Assembly no role in emergency response, even if it is in regular session and/or the emergency lasts for a very long time.

3. 1. and 2. provide clear challenges to the Guarantee Clause (Article IV, Section 4) of the U.S. Constitutio:. “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government.”

4. The law did not provide for a General Assembly role in confirming or rejecting executive orders that restrict constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Such restrictions have far stronger chance of being upheld in state and federal courts if the General Assembly plays a role, at least ex post facto, to confirm, modify or reject such an order.

5. The law puts no reasonable time limits on either the state of emergency itself or the executive orders resulting from the emergency. Under the current law both the state of emergency and executive orders, absent action by the governor that proclaimed both, expire on June 30, 2021, at which point he can renew them.

6. The law does not make provisions to put the General Assembly in position to participate in emergency response in a streamlined, more time sensitive manner and efficient manner.

7. All of these mistakes perhaps can be shown to have resulted from the consideration of only short duration disasters such as the ones listed in the law, not a pandemic of the duration of the one we are facing.

With the arrival of a pandemic, both sides of the aisles in both houses of the General Assembly have realized that law both makes them irrelevant and makes the law itself a prime target for judicial reversal. It is time to change the law. The August special session is the venue.
Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Constructive Criticism in a Crisis

by James C. Sherlock

Steve Haner and I have expressed the exact same three-phase reaction to state government missteps in the COVID-19 crisis. At first we gave the Governor slack because we knew he was unprepared and is supported by bureaucracies similarly unprepared for the new realities and that both needed time to adjust.

Then, when some of the Virginia bureaucracies important to this crisis showed inescapable evidence of a lack of nimbleness that rose to a level of incompetence, we called them out. Someone has to, or Governor, unschooled in the machinery of crisis response, will not get a sufficiently clear picture to seek alternative advice. Certainly, no one who works for him is likely to tell him.

That is the reason that I listed a “bill of particulars” the other day about major missteps in his April 1 press conference. He needs better advice. A follow-up article was about official malfeasance. He needs to fire the culprit.

Third, we recommended how the problems can be addressed. I recommended  the Governor seek support from MITRE to bridge the unpreparedness of his government advisors. The advice was for now, not for the post-crisis review. We want and need him to succeed.

What happens to government bureaucracies in a crisis?

Government bureaucracies often succeed at their basic day-to-day missions, but in many cases it is best not to look closer if you don’t have strong stomach. Continue reading

Thank God for Medicaid Expansion

By Peter Galuszka

For years after the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” made millions of federal dollars available for states to expand Medicaid health coverage, Virginia Republicans steadfastly blocked Virginia from using the money.

Led by former House Speaker Bill Howell and Sen. Tommy Norment, the GOP claimed that expanding Medicaid to nearly 400,000 people would be too expensive and would blow out state funding.

This skinflint approach was finally put to rest after Democrat Ralph Northam became governor in 2018, foreshadowing a Democratic sweep of the General Assembly in elections last year.

Thank God the Democrats prevailed.

Virginia’s formerly robust economy has been shattered by the COVID 19 pandemic. Last week, some 110,000 Virginians filed for unemployment support. It was 46,277 the week before.

Who covers them is an open question but many would qualify for Medicaid. Expansion has boosted lower-income Virginians so that they may be able to better ride out the pandemic. Continue reading

Is Aubrey Layne Serious about a $2B “Hit” to Virginia’s Biennial General Fund from COVID-19?

By DJ Rippert

Penny Layne. Aubrey Layne is Virginia’s Secretary of Finance under the Northam Administration. Previously, Layne served as Secretary of Transportation under the McAuliffe regime. Prior to his time in government Layne held a number of executive positions in private enterprise including the presidency of Great Atlantic Properties. Layne is listed by Wikipedia as being a Republican. If true, he must have shown considerable competence and talent to be appointed to senior positions in two consecutive Democratic administrations.

Five days ago, during a Q&A with Richmond Times-Dispatch Magazine Layne effectively made an astonishing prediction. He was asked about the economic fallout from the COVID-19 epidemic in Virginia. The interviewer noted that COVID-19 would trim $2 billion from the state’s $48 billion General Fund budget within the $135 billion biennial budget. Here’s the question, “When the state budget was passed earlier this month, it was based on a full-throttled economy. Now the state is forecasted to lose potentially $2 billion in the upcoming two-year budget because of the coronavirus pandemic. How will the Northam administration address the drastic change facing the approved $135 billion budget?” Layne went on to answer that question and others without ever calling the $2 billion estimate into question.

Is it possible that the economic hit to Virginia from COVID-19 (even after federal bailout money) will only be $2 billion from the General Fund over two years? That’s just over 4% of the General Fund and just under 1.5% of the total budget.

Continue reading

Help Is Available, Governor

Dr. Jay Schnitzer, chief medical officer of Virginia-based MITRE, is a national leader in the COVID-19 response. Could he help Virginia?

by James C. Sherlock

The issues I spotlighted yesterday in Governor Northam’s news conference are not a Democrat or a Republican thing. They just need to be fixed. If you or I were elected Governor, we would consider our new responsibilities.  We would find that we have basically four:

  • Appoint competent and hard-working cabinet and sub-cabinet people and give then the authority to do their jobs. A corollary is that we would not suffer fools once we saw them in action.
  • Produce a budget.
  • Declare state emergencies, which activate the extraordinary crisis authorities granted to us under state law.
  • Use those authorities to lead and manage the state.

We would do first things first, and ensure a competent administration. We would see that we don’t have to produce a budget for a year.

Then we would turn to the last two. Governors come to the job with a near infinite variety of skills and experience. Most don’t have any experience in state-level crisis management. We would see that we could not delegate such responsibilities and make sure that we were ready. We would have our state department of emergency management train us in the basic tools of crisis management, the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management and the state annexes to both. We would ask those same offices to schedule training and exercises in the federally pre-scripted and funded scenarios for such crises: Continue reading