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HomeNewsLocal governmentFEMA, VITEMA Complete Exercises to Prepare for Hurricane Season

FEMA, VITEMA Complete Exercises to Prepare for Hurricane Season

Satellite image of Hurricane Maria on September 19, 2017. The massive category five cyclone made landfall over Dominica on September 18, 2017, causing widespread devastation. (Photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)

From May 20 to May 24, the Government of the Virgin Islands and federal partners participated in a series of response and recovery workshops along with a hurricane readiness response exercise to strengthen preparedness efforts before the Atlantic hurricane season.

During the May 23 hurricane readiness exercise, participants established a unified command led by the territory and supported with federal resources from Emergency Operations Centers on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John as well as FEMA facilities in the territory. The exercise was driven by a scenario of a Category 3 hurricane, which impacted the U.S. Virgin Islands overnight with conditions allowing for a joint territorial and federal response.

On St. Croix, an expedient operations site was set up outside the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency’s (VITEMA) Emergency Operations Center in Christiansted to support the hurricane readiness exercise by logistics from Region 2’s Incident Management Assistance Team and FEMA’s Virgin Islands Recovery Office.

On St. Thomas and St. John, FEMA integrated with VITEMA, staff from other territorial governmental agencies as well as community partners at VITEMA’s Emergency Operations Centers in Estate Nisky and Estate Susannaberg for the hurricane readiness exercise. The territory’s Business Emergency Operations Center also integrated virtually with VITEMA’s Emergency Operations Center for the Capstone exercise.

“As the U.S. Virgin Islands prepares for this year’s hurricane season, we take great pride in knowing that the Territory’s preparedness professionals and first responders are supported by local and federal professionals who make up the Incident Command,” said Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. “Led by VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen, the CAPSTONE readiness training conducted last week brought government personnel face-to-face with hazardous scenarios that may take place. We stand ready to assist and protect residents and businesses as a result of the CAPSTONE exercise,” said Gov. Bryan.

Palm trees during a hurricane on St Croix. Source file photo)
Palm trees during a hurricane on St Croix. (Source file photo)

“FEMA, VITEMA and the Government of the Virgin Islands continue to lean forward with strengthening the territory’s capacity to respond to and recover from all hazards that could affect the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Aaron VanDoren, acting coordinator of FEMA’s Virgin Islands Caribbean Area Office. “We cannot control the movement of storms in the Caribbean or other hazards that could impact the USVI, though we have the capability to review, practice and bolster response and recovery focus areas through drills and exercises,” said VanDoren. “We also urge individuals to review and update your preparedness plans so your household is ready for this hurricane season.”

“While the exercise is designed to stress our staff in making decisions based on limited information, it is also designed to develop relationships and partnerships between our local agencies, private business sector leaders, and federal partners. Our joint mission is to ‘Save Lives and Preserve Property’ and our recurring theme this entire week was ‘Unity of Effort,’” said VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen.

“In this year’s exercise we really demonstrated the importance of quickly assessing the need/gap locally, requesting a resource (equipment or people) to fill the gap, communicating the solution back to the requesting local government agency, and tracking the cost incurred as a result,” said Jaschen. “We even conducted an exercise press conference designed for agency leaders to provide information to the community. It is a real challenge to gather accurate information and answer questions, timely.”

This month’s workshops and exercise were the CAPSTONE event of the U.S. Virgin Islands Readiness Initiative, a nearly six-month planning effort to prepare for this hurricane season. The CAPSTONE provided opportunities to integrate lessons learned from previous response efforts in the USVI, address gaps with territorial resources and then identify federal resources necessary to respond to all hazards.

Remnants of a hurricane damaged structure in Estate Frydenhoj, St. Thomas. (Photo by Mat Probasco)

Workshops during the CAPSTONE included:

  • Communications drills to strengthen the capability to operate in an environment with degraded communications,
  • Workshops on how the U.S. Virgin Islands and FEMA would collaborate on Individual Assistance and Public Assistance Preliminary Damage Assessments to streamline the disaster declaration process and jump-start the recovery process after an event.
  • A focus on patient movement to validate a concept of operations on the movement of hospital patients between islands and out of the territory.
  • Strengthening the coordination between VITEMA and FEMA on the resource request process for the territory to receive the proper resources to support response operations in a timely manner.
  • Temporary power restoration priorities to focus on missions to restore power to critical facilities identified by VITEMA after disasters.
  • Evacuation sheltering to streamline sheltering operations, which included a focus on pet and medical special needs sheltering.
  • A points of distribution workshop to ensure the proper activation of the territory’s feeding and hydration missions during a response.
  • Emergency messaging to ensure the public receives timely and accurate information prior to, during and after a disaster.
  • Access and functional needs to make sure there is an effective communication access for people with disabilities, access and functional needs.

In June and July, territorial and federal partners will concentrate on corrective actions that need to be strengthened for response and initial recovery focus areas.

Click below captions to view photos:

FEMA’s Region 2 Incident Management Assistance Team with regional leadership, along with elements of Region 2’s Response and Recovery divisions and the New Jersey All-Hazards Incident Management Team collaborate May 23 in a field tent set up by IMAT and Virgin Islands Recovery Office logistics during a hurricane readiness exercise outside the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Operations Center on St. Croix. FEMA/Kirk Henderson

Leon Lewis, Warehouse Manager and General Supply Specialist; George Hamilton, Logistics Facilities Lead; and Chris Brant, Region 2 Information Technology Specialist, help set up an expedient operations site on May 22 outside the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Operations Center on St. Croix in preparation for the following day’s hurricane readiness CAPSTONE exercise. FEMA/Angelique Smythe

Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Daryl Jaschen and Federal Coordinating Officer Lai Sun Yee guide territorial and federal partners in a hurricane readiness exercise May 23 inside VITEMA’s Emergency Operations Center on St. Croix. FEMA/Angelique Smythe

Shantelle Eddy, of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, and Ozzie Bradshaw, of FEMA’s Virgin Islands Caribbean Area Office, both focus May 23 on the CAPSTONE’s hurricane readiness exercise at VITEMA’s Emergency Operations Center on St. Thomas. FEMA/Eric Adams

Federal and territorial partners participate in an air operations blended training May 15 at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas in preparation for an airport assessments and opening reviews workshop that was held May 21 during the CAPSTONE exercise. An air operations blended training was completed at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix as well. FEMA/Eric Adams

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