Category Archives: Disasters and disaster preparedness

A Price of COPN — Sentara Pleads COVID Capacity Shortages

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

by James C. Sherlock

Sentara Health, once described by The Washington Post as “playing COPN like a violin,”  yesterday went statewide with an acknowledgment that its system is out of capacity for many who seek its help.

On a Zoom press conference yesterday, Sentara reported seeing a huge surge in hospital admissions. Hospitalizations have more than tripled since Dec. 26. That is combined with a depletion in hospital staff caused by illness.

Dr. Jordan Asher, Sentara’s chief physician executive, said:

We take care of people that are sick. You’re coming around unvaccinated versus vaccinated does not come into play as we think about it. As resources get scarce, do you triage differently? Obviously the answer to that is yes … but we have a very strong way of going through all that, of looking at that. We’re used to that.… How we think about the utilization of resources and how we think about triaging is part of our everyday work. (Bolding added by author)

So you might find yourself on the down side of emergency room triage. Not good being you. Continue reading

Northam Apologize? LOL

by Kerry Dougherty

You would expect that Governor Ralph Northam, in the final two weeks of his governorship, would engage in a little self-reflection, maybe even a bit of humility and admit that he and his “team” made colossal mistakes on Monday that left hundreds of travelers stranded on a frozen 50-mile stretch of highway for more than a day.

Shoot, a normal person might even — dare I say it — apologize for the endangerment of so many people.

Ha.

If there’s one thing all Virginians know about Northam by now it’s that this guy is incapable of admitting he was wrong and he never apologizes. Continue reading

Northam’s Frozen Failure

by Kerry Dougherty

Let’s face it. Lots of us are cranky as we start the New Year.

Thousands — shoot, probably hundreds of thousands — of air travelers were stranded around the country this week after flights were cancelled because of weather or staffing shortages.

Including me.

As our taxi approached the New Orleans airport Monday morning my phone beeped. There it was: A text saying my flight to Norfolk was cancelled. Snow and ice at BWI.

Saw that one coming. I’d been watching the Baltimore weather the night before with growing alarm. Continue reading

Stuck in a Snowstorm: Better to Have a Gas- or Electric-Powered Car?

Here’s what Interstate 95 looked like near Fredericksburg yesterday. Both northbound and southbound sections were closed due to snow and ice. Photo credit; Virginia Department of Transportation via the Associated Press

by James A. Bacon

Hundreds of motorists were stranded on Interstate 95 in freezing temperatures last night after two tractor-trailers jackknifed in a snowstorm and triggered a chain reaction as other vehicles lost control. Both lanes of the Interstate were closed. As night fell, reports the Associated Press, motorists posted messages on social media about running out of fuel, food, and water. Senator Tim Kaine, who was commuting between his residence in Richmond and the Capitol, said he was stuck in his car for 21 hours.

NBC News correspondent Josh Lederman, who spoke on NBC’s “Today” show by video feed from his car, had this observation: “You really start to think if there was a medical emergency, someone that was out of gas and out of heat — you know it’s 26 degrees, and there’s no way that anybody can get to you in this situation.”

People can live without food and, for a time, without water. If worse comes to worse, they can pee on the side of the road. But the potential killer is hypothermia. The AP account tells of one motorist who stopped his car engine at least 30 times to conserve gas and run the heat just enough to stay warm.

I’m wondering how many of the stranded cars were electric vehicles and what happened to them. Continue reading

Tornadoes: December Devastation

by Kerry Dougherty

It’s the drone footage that gets you.

Those silent video clips showing mile after mile of unimaginable devastation. Flattened homes and factories, overturned railroad cars and trucks, trees reduced to toothpicks and debris fields full of the colorful remnants of ordinary peoples’ lives.

And wandering through the Armageddon are people, eyes down, slowly searching. Are they looking for loved ones, mementoes or pets? Impossible to know from the drone’s eye view. Continue reading

Youngkin Takes the Lead

by James C. Sherlock

The Real Clear Politics poll average has Glenn Youngkin in the lead for the first time.

Nice job, Glenn.

Terry, thank you for being perhaps the worst retail politician Virginia has seen since Ken Cuccinelli.

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