Category Archives: Disaster planning

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.

Continue reading

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

“We Are All Keynesians Now”

John Maynard Keynes

By Peter Galuszka

John Maynard Keynes, the British economist, advocated government spending and monetary intervention as suitable for modern economies.

When I was a student at a liberal college in New England in the early 1970s, we were taught that Keynes very much had the right idea. As evidence, we had the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson and, strangely, the Vietnam War. They all relied on vast amounts of deficit public spending.

Since then, free-market types came into favorable light and it all became the magic of the market, little regulation and other panaceas.

According to whom you read, pro-capitalism economist Milton Friedman admitted the necessity of Keynes’ thinking by stating, “We’re all Keynesians now.” President Richard Nixon, a Republican, is also credited with the quote when he took the U.S. off the gold standard.

The phrase is taking on increasing relevance with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia is no exception. Continue reading

Federal and State Responses to COVID-19

Duck and cover!

by James C. Sherlock

The federal government’s relationships with state and local governments is defined by the U.S. Constitution. Presidential management of internal national crises is constrained by lack of command authority over the states. No governor works for the President. He cannot order them to do anything, even in wartime. He can take control of industries, but not state governments. If the President nationalizes the National Guard, the Guard loses its ability to enforce state laws or respond to the Governor. And no, I don’t think we need to change our constitution.

The most complete restructuring of the federal government in my lifetime was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 and a complete rewrite of the National Response Plan. Giving birth to that full-grown mastodon was as noisy and bloody as you can imagine. After its birth, it was very awkward for a time. FEMA, now an element of DHS, existed at 9/11 exclusively as an agency that wrote checks upon the Presidential implementation of the Stafford Act. Although all of the plans and programs were restructured in 2002 and 2003, FEMA had that same role when Katrina happened in 2005.

After Katrina, the National Response Plan (NRP) was re-written again. The lessons learned from that tragedy resulted in a major restructuring of FEMA to support a national emergency command center and greatly improve its logistics capabilities, but those logistics capabilities still largely lie with check writing to implement contracts negotiated both before and during crises. Virtually every other major federal agency has a role in federal response coordinated by FEMA with participation of other federal agencies defined in plans specific to the type of emergency. The White House has its own staff to support the president and direct the federal agencies. Continue reading

Backgrounder: Virginia’s Healthcare Emergency Management Program

by James C. Sherlock

State emergency operations are personally meaningful to me. Preparation is key. Decisions have consequences. I want this one to go as well as possible.

I spent about a year while under contract to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as director of operations for a program that offered advanced Department of Defense capabilities to the state of Louisiana to improve its real-time emergency voice and data exchange and GPS-enabled visualization capabilities with response agencies across the state. We operated out to the state Emergency Operations Center and performed several successful statewide multi-participant live demonstrations. The people were great. The post-action reviews were very favorable. We finished the demonstration series about eleven months before Katrina. DoD’s offer was never accepted.

So, any words I offer are informed by that tragedy and are well meant.

Virginia Healthcare Emergency Management Program

In an earlier column, we reviewed Virginia’s training and exercise program funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There is a second one. The Virginia Healthcare Emergency Management Program is funded through an annual Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Continue reading

Yes, Virginia Does Have a Plan to Fight the Pandemic

by James C. Sherlock

I have reviewed the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan, HAZARD-SPECIFIC ANNEX #4 PANDEMIC INFLUENZA RESPONSE[1], August 2012. Such plans are required by FEMA as a predicate for federal funding, so every state and territory has one. Virginia’s operations plan, which follows the FEMA template, is excellent. The lead agency for execution is the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).

 The question, as always in emergency response, is pre-emergency training and exercises. FEMA offers every level of both training and exercises and pays the bills, but the states must opt to use them, make sure that the right people participate and correct any readiness deficiencies exposed. Assessments of how and how often Virginia exercised, who participated, the level of rigor and post-exercise corrective actions will wait for post-operation analyses Here follows highlights of that plan. (Text in italics are my editorial insertions.)

Purpose

The Commonwealth of Virginia Pandemic Influenza Response Annex …has been developed to provide a sound basis for pandemic influenza preparedness and to establish the organizational framework and operational concepts and procedures designed to minimize the loss of life and property and to expedite the restoration of essential services following an influenza pandemic. Continue reading