Category Archives: Disasters and disaster preparedness

Motoring Mariners

by Kerry Dougherty

I was surprised when my granddaughter excitedly phoned last night to tell me that due to flooding, school was cancelled today. I was reminded of the time area schools closed prematurely for snow and not a flake fell from the sky.

But then I checked the forecast: High tide today could be 7.3 feet above normal.

That’s serious. It means all of the usual places will flood and some areas that haven’t flooded in decades.

That also means a certain type of individual will be plying the roads.

I’ve written about them before.

Click on 24-hour disaster-time TV — such as we saw over the weekend — and you’ll catch images of brave storm-chasing pilots who flew into the eye of the hurricane to get accurate weather reports, rescue workers helping dazed survivors, linemen restoring power to hurricane ravaged neighborhoods and folks with chainsaws buzzing their way through tree-littered neighborhoods.

But there’s a less celebrated group of storm warriors who rarely are recognized.

The folks who dare to go where no one ought to in a storm. Into the floodwaters. At full throttle. In their cars.

They’ll be out today in Hampton Roads. Trust me. Continue reading

Electric Vehicles in a Hurricane?

by Kerry Dougherty

While hurricane season technically began two months ago, it isn’t until August — or even September — that most of us pay attention to those pesky tropical depressions off the coast of Africa.

My favorite parlor game is the annual will-we-evacuate-if-a-hurricane-is-headed-our-way debate. My family’s answer, so far, has always been no.

There’s a reason many of us just smile weakly when emergency management types talk cheerfully about “orderly evacuations” of Tidewater.

We’ve seen tunnel traffic on summer weekends. We’ve spent hours stewing in it. We also know that the only thing worse than being stuck in a flimsy house for a Category 4 ‘cane would be to be spend it in a colossal traffic jam on the bridge by Willoughby Spit.

Now imagine being stuck on the spit in an electric vehicle that’s run out of juice. Continue reading

Hurricanes: Dominion’s Big Bet With Our Money

By David Wojick

My regular readers know that I have been fussing about the threat of hurricanes destroying proposed Atlantic coast offshore wind arrays. The issue arises because the offshore wind industry is based in Europe, which does not get hurricanes. My focus has been Dominion’s massive project off Virginia, but the whole East Coast is hurricane alley.

Now I have found some research that actually quantifies the threat and it is very real. It looks like wind generators will have to be redesigned specifically to withstand hurricanes. In fact, that work is underway. In the meantime we should not be building conventional offshore wind towers. Continue reading

The Spirit of Norfolk: Vessel Lost, Lives Saved

by Kerry Dougherty

Every city with a decent harbor seems to have one: a vessel that takes passengers out for short lunch, dinner or party cruises.

If you’ve lived in Tidewater for more than a decade, chances are you found yourself at one time or another on board The Spirit of Norfolk. Since it arrived in town in 1978, the boat was popular for weddings, proms, reunions, office parties and, well, booze cruises. With three dining decks, a bar and dance floor, untold thousands of passengers have partied on board the “yacht-style dining vessel,” as it was billed.

The Spirit was docked at Norfolk’s Waterside summer and winter.

Until now.

On Tuesday afternoon, with 89 school children on board — including fifth graders from Newport News and a large contingent of Virginia Beach kindergartners — the Spirit of Norfolk caught fire and was eventually consumed by flames. The cause of the inferno is under investigation.

The Spirit appears to be a total loss. Continue reading

Youngkin Signs Bill to Limit His Own Power

by Kerry Dougherty

I was at dinner earlier this week with a cousin from out-of-state. We passed a pleasant night without talking politics, but he did want to know what I liked about Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Where to start?

I pointed out that the new governor of Virginia is serious about getting the commonwealth’s public schools back on track to excellence after his predecessor’s prolonged school closures left many kids hopelessly behind.

I added that Virginians no longer have to dread their governor’s Thursday press conferences, wondering which civil liberties would be yanked away at the whim of a little potentate in Richmond.

(Anyone else remember when Gov. Ralph Northam ordered everyone in their houses by 12 because his parents believed that “nothing good happen after midnight”? Bizarre as it seems, 8.5 million Virginians were forced for a time to live under Northam family rules like naughty teenagers.)

Now Youngkin’s done something Northam never would have done: He signed a bill limiting his own executive powers. Continue reading

Storm-Related Flood Mitigation – A Louisiana Example for Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

I have worked for at least ten years — many of those with now-Attorney General Miyares when he was my delegate — to get Virginia to step up to the Louisiana model for flood control.

Louisiana. The Louisiana model is a state-federal partnership in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal executive agent in the Civil Works program and the state is the non-federal sponsor, a role with planning, funding and operational management responsibilities.

Today Louisiana celebrated the completion of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) that will defend the Greater New Orleans area against severe storms, including those with a one-percent chance of occurring in any given year.

HSDRRS is of similar complexity to a system to defend Hampton Roads. Continue reading

Fix One Thing — School Physical and Electronic Security

by James C. Sherlock

I offer an apolitical suggestion. We know how to begin to fix school security.

Do it.

Step 1. Every school division has a security instruction. How many of them monitor whether that guidance is being followed? I will let them answer that.

Step 2. The more complete solution is deployment of integrated combinations of physical and electronic security systems. System integrators who specialize in school security can help with requirements definition for any facility and tailor expandable solutions to budgets. That is their business and they are good at it.

As an example of what is possible, see ADT’s integrated intrusion security and fire detection and alarm system offerings for K-12 schools.

When people say “do something”, this is the kind of solution on which all of us can agree. Do it. Continue reading

Fix the Virginia Department of Health

Credit: PBS Healthcare Management

by James C. Sherlock

Governor Youngkin and his new administration have an opportunity to fix crucial problems in the Department of Health that have been festering for decades.

The issues:

  • How can Virginia regulate effectively its state-created healthcare monopolies?
  • In a directly related matter, how can we fix the failures, famously demonstrated during COVID, of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in its other missions ?

The power of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) to control the business of healthcare in Virginia was the original sin.  Giving that power to the Department of Health made it worse.

From that point VDH was the agent of its own corruption. Never charged by the General Assembly to create regional monopolies in its administration of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law, VDH did so anyway.

Actions have consequences.

Now those regional healthcare monopolies are each the largest private business in their regions, have achieved political dominance in Richmond, and effectively control VDH. Continue reading

Et Tu Miyares — Prosecuting “Price Gougers”?

West End Motors

by James A. Bacon

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I lambasted former Attorney General Mark Herring for touting his prosecution of gas station owners for “price gouging” — raising prices in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown. Now the AG’s office under Jason Miyares has issued a press release crowing about squeezing a $6,000 settlement out of Lovettsville-based Wheeler & Wheeler Inc. (West End Motors) for raising its prices during the state of emergency declared last May. It’s only fair that I give Miyares some  hell.

Between May 11 and May 14, the gas station charged an average price of $3.51 for regular unleaded, and more for other grades of gasoline — an increase of more than 20%. The increases were not attributable to additional costs incurred by the business, an AG investigation found.

“I am pleased that my office reached an agreement that will make restitution dollars available for affected consumers,” Miyares said in a press release.

The irony is that $3.51 today would be quite the bargain. As of March 15, the average price of regular in Virginia was running around $4.20. Continue reading

A Perfect Storm

Snowfall totals for Jan. 3, 2022

by James A. Bacon

On January 3 and 4 of this year, a winter storm descended upon the Fredericksburg area and closed a large stretch of Interstate 95, trapping hundreds of motorists in freezing conditions for many long hours. The failure of the Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia State Police and other state agencies to predict, prevent or ameliorate the horrendous conditions seemed an indictment of the competence of state government, and in particular the Northam administration.

Now comes an after-action report written by CNA, an Arlington-based research and analysis group, released by the Youngkin administration.

The conclusion can be summed up this way: Sometimes s*** happens. An unusual confluence of events occurred that day that created a series of cascading effects that overwhelmed state agencies’ ability to respond.

CNA did not draw any conclusions of a political nature. But it’s hard to imagine how state agencies or the Northam administration could have responded much differently, or to any greater effect. Continue reading

Governing by Edict

Jason Miyares, Attorney General of Virginia

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although the issue of school mask mandates is now behind us, it is instructive to examine the legal arguments advanced by Attorney General Jason Miyares in a court case seeking to overturn the mask mandates instituted by the Loudoun County School Board (“school board”).  Not only does Miyares advocate judicial activism and misread statutory law, the breadth of the power he asserts for the governor is breathtaking.

At issue was whether the school board could continue to mandate the wearing of face masks by students despite the provisions of Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order No. Two (EO-2) that students are to have the option of wearing masks in school.

The state circuit courts have divided on this issue. The state Supreme Court dismissed, on technical grounds, a suit by Chesapeake parents challenging EO-2. A group of seven school boards filed suit in Arlington Circuit Court challenging the legality of EO-2. The court there issued a temporary injunction barring the enforcement of the mask-option policy set out in EO-2. The result was just the opposite in Loudoun. The court there issued a temporary injunction barring the mask mandate. Because there are no standards to guide Virginia courts in the issuance of temporary injunctions, it may be difficult to infer from that action how a court would ultimately rule. The order issued by the Loudoun County judge did not provide any specific grounds for granting the request for a temporary injunction other than “the reasons stated in the briefs, pleadings, and on the record at the…hearing.” The Washington Post reported that the judge said that the plaintiffs, consisting of parents and the Commonwealth, were likely to prevail in a trial. He was quoted as saying, “The executive order is a valid exercise of the governor of Virginia.” Continue reading

COPN’s Regional Monopolies Helped Boost Virginia Hospitals’ Operating Margins to more than 3x National Median in 2020

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians have been assured forever by the hospital lobby that the non-profit regional monopolies established and protected by COPN nearly everywhere but Richmond:

  • are benign public servants with a charitable mission;
  • certainly don’t drive up costs;
  • that competition does not matter;
  • that the State Medical Facilities Plan on which COPN is based, like government 5-year industrial plans everywhere, is both well- managed and prescient; and
  • that limiting capacity is the key to cost containment. (It turned out that limiting capacity was also the key to hospitals being overwhelmed by COVID. Clearly disaster preparedness is not among COPN criteria.)

Well. The median operating margin for Virginia’s 106 hospitals in 2020, the latest year for which data are available, was 9.2%. Nationally, that margin was 2.7%.

Virginians paid over $1.5 billion more for hospital visits than they would have if our hospitals had cumulatively posted a 3% operating margin, which has been at or near the national median  for years. Continue reading

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.


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