The historic and tragic flooding caused in Texas by Hurricane Harvey is being studied by other vulnerable cities around the country including Virginia.
But Delegate Jason Miyares (R-82nd House District), 41, didn’t need a hurricane or Houston when he introduced legislation in January 2017 to prevent just such a tragedy from devastating the Commonwealth’s largest coastal urban area and seaport. HB 2320 was designed to prepare Virginia and Hampton Roads for a hurricane and catastrophic flooding:
Hurricane and Flooding Risk Reduction Act of 2017. Establishes the Commonwealth as a Nonfederal Sponsor of Hurricane and Flooding Risk Reduction Projects. The bill also establishes the Virginia Hurricane and Flooding Risk Reduction Authority, a Board of Directors for that Authority, and a Governor’s Advisory Commission on Hurricane and Flooding Risk Reduction.
Testifying before the General Assembly during the 2017 session, Miyares noted that it was not a matter of if Virginia would be hit with a major hurricane event, but when.
Miyares modeled his legislation on Louisiana’s reorganization of state government after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina  to better prepare for hurricane and flooding projects with the Army Corps of Engineers. Hampton Roads, he added on Facebook , is not ready for catastrophic flooding.
Questions concerning Hampton Roads and hurricane preparedness were raised this week by environmental reporter Dave Mayfield in the Virginian-Pilot  as localities grapple with the real-live event in Texas, and how they would handle something similar:
A storm that dumps more than 50 inches of rain over several days, like Hurricane Harvey has done along the Texas coast, is extremely unlikely in Hampton Roads.
Still, “you never say never,” said Jeff Orrock, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s Wakefield office. “The ingredients that you’d need to have an event similar to that, we do deal with those.”
Traditionally, [Portsmouth deputy coordinator of emergency management Justin Arnold] said, emergency planners’ hurricane model was “a wind-driven event that annihilates large paths” and causes huge tidal surges. While those remain key threats, more storms are packing another peril: “unbelievable torrential rainfall amounts.”
With a nod to new communications and social media’s role in today’s natural disasters, Mayfield continued:
[Erin Sutton, Virginia Beach’s emergency management director] said that perhaps her biggest takeaway from the Texas disaster has been the increasing importance of Facebook and other social media platforms. Numerous rescues were prompted by people calling for help through Facebook posts because 911 systems were overwhelmed. Social media also have been key to communicating information on everything from shelters to charitable donations.
Virginia Beach already has several employees whose full-time jobs involve communicating through and monitoring social media platforms, Sutton said. During storms, “it’s another form of intel that we get.”
Miyares’ proposal to confront a disaster like Harvey and Katrina was tabled in 2017 (track the bill’s progress here ) but he plans to reintroduce it during the 2018 session.
In hindsight, his proactive legislation would almost appear to be prophetic.
Cover photo: Flooding in Tennessee