Kickoff to Hurricane Season 2020: A discussion with local emergency managers as they prepare for hurricane season

Episode #5

In this episode of Disaster Recovery Roundtable, we hear how emergency managers in Florida, Virginia, and Texas are preparing for the start of hurricane season. They’ll share unique circumstances and considerations in their communities, including how they are planning for potential COVID-19 impacts if a threat develops.

Emergency Managers are preparing for the start of the 2020 Hurricane Season under unique circumstances as they develop response considerations for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Palm Beach County, Florida; Virginia Beach, Virginia and the City of Houston have developed specific response plans and guidance to minimize COVID-19 impacts if sheltering is necessary during this hurricane season. Other considerations that all three communities are addressing include mitigating for the public’s fear or reluctance to evacuate due to COVID-19 concerns.

Key Takeaways

  • [00:30] Introduction of Bill Johnson, Palm Beach County Emergency Management
  • [01:00] Can you share with our listeners a little bit about Palm Beach County Emergency Management, your staff and operations, and how you are preparing for the start of the season?
  • [03:04] What are the benchmarks for hurricane impacts from your most recent events?
  • [05:42] If you had some advice – what words of wisdom do you have for your fellow emergency managers in other less-impacted, hurricane-prone communities as they prepare for the season?
  • [09:44] Introduction of Erin Sutton, Virginia Beach Emergency Management
  • [10:05] Can you provide our listeners a little bit about your agency and more about your location within the Hampton Roads community?
  • [12:00] They are implying that is going to be an active season. How do you prepare yourself this year with everything going on with COVID-19?
  • [14:50] Do you have any fears that COVID-19 will impact how the public will respond this year?
  • [18:00] Introduction of Melanie Bartis, City of Houston Office of Emergency Management

    Now that hurricane season is here, one could argue that Houston is the hotbed of tropical activity in the U.S. How do you communicate the risks of hurricanes and tropical storms threat to your public as hurricane season approaches?

  • [19:35] From a catastrophic standpoint, is flooding your greatest risk in Houston?
  • [20:50] Are you fearful that COVID-19 could impact how the public might respond to evacuation orders if a tropical system threatens?
  • [22:15] What is Houston doing related to catastrophic planning for the potential of future disasters?
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Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson
FL EMA Director
Palm Beach County

Bill Johnson is the Director of the Palm Beach County Division of Emergency Management. Throughout his 9-year tenure, he has guided the county in its response to several disaster

incidents, including Tropical Storm Isaac (2012), Hurricane Matthew (2016), and Hurricane Irma (2017). He has led his Division to become one of only 43 local programs in the nation to become an accredited emergency management program. Prior to Palm Beach County, Bill worked as the Assistant Director of the Broward County Emergency Management Division and Assistant Director for the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management.

Bill has been deployed to several major disasters including to New York City’s Emergency Operations Center to assist with incident command after the 9/11 “Attacks on America” (2001), to Monroe County after Hurricane Irma (2017), and to Calhoun County after Hurricane Michael (2018). He is a registered nurse, certified paramedic, and certified emergency manager.

Erin Sutton
Erin Sutton
VA EMA Director
Virginia Beach

Erin Sutton is the Director for the City of Virginia Beach Division of Emergency Management. She has been in emergency planning and management for the last 16 years and has been with the City since 2011. Her responsibilities involve the City of Virginia Beach’s comprehensive emergency operations plan, coordination of exercises and planning for special events, management of the Emergency Operations Center during activations, and advocating comprehensive emergency management programs for the City. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Radford University and her Master of Science in Microbiology and Immunology from Wright State University in Dayton, OH. She is a Certification Emergency Manager, Certified Floodplain Manager and has her Project Management Professional certification.

Melanie Bartis
Melanie Bartis
Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator
City of Houston, TX Office of Emergency Management

Melanie Bartis serves as the Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator for Planning and Administration in the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management. She is responsible for preparedness activities, including the development of emergency plans for a range of disaster scenarios, mitigation planning, training activities, and disaster exercises and drills.

Ms. Bartis has 18 years of experience with numerous local, state, and federal projects involving planning for catastrophic disaster response and community hazard mitigation.

Ms. Bartis earned a Master of Science degree in Geography from the University of South Carolina in 2004. She also earned a Bachelor of Science from the Pennsylvania State University in 1998 and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in 2001.