Before a football team takes on an opponent, the various position coaches on the squad meet to make up a plan. The offensive coordinator meets with the coaches in charge of moving the ball while the defensive coordinator works with those trying to take it away. From many coaches comes a single game plan.
When it comes to tackling the damages caused by flooding and natural disasters, West Virginia has assembled a team of its own. And just as a staff of different coaches puts together a strategy, this one has a roster of different agencies to meet a single goal.
The West Virginia Silver Jackets team held a series of weekly workshops in October to go over the X’s and O’s of hazard mitigation, preparedness and disaster recovery. Participants included the West Virginia FEMA Integration Team (WVFIT), West Virginia Division of Emergency Management, the state Office of Insurance Commissioner, the West Virginia Office of Community Advancement & Development, the West Virginia Conservation Agency and West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Other federal agencies on the team include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE-Huntington).
Originally planned as a series of day-long, in-person sessions throughout the state, the series was forced to go virtual by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But what could have been seen as a limitation to the effort became an opportunity to develop content and use the technology as a launchpad for future Silver Jackets workshops.
“I was really impressed to see how the Silver Jackets Team adapted their format to deliver the latest on programs and policies that can help our state partners in West Virginia take advantage of opportunities available to them for flood and disaster preparedness,” said MaryAnn Tierney, regional administrator, FEMA Region 3. “I’m looking forward to seeing how regular sessions can broaden the team’s reach throughout West Virginia so the state can increase its preparedness and resiliency.”
Michelle Brown, an Interdisciplinary Planner with USACE-Huntington, found the pivot to a virtual setting enhanced the team’s experience.
“It brought the team together and provided an outlet to work towards a unified purpose,” she said. “Just getting the workshops to happen — using information we have all learned by participating in other virtual meetings — got everyone excited and re-energized the team.”
Judging by the responses to the event, the feeling was mutual. The planners at USACE, the WVFIT and West Virginia state agencies found that attendees were ready for deeper dives into the various programs available.
“This was the most successful event we’ve held so far,” said Chuck Grishaber, director of the West Virginia National Flood Insurance Program, which operates out of the state insurance office. “There was great participation – upwards of 60 to 80 people on each of the (four) Zoom calls. It was great for making contacts and finding out who is who, what their functions are and just explaining agencies’ processes”
This was a sentiment echoed by Susan Kuhn, Public Assistance Grants Manager with state emergency management. “This event drew an unprecedented collective effort to showcase the current resources available to help West Virginia through all phases of the recovery process, as well as explain how the different resources can complement each other and make West Virginia more resilient than ever before,” she said.
The organizers saw the event as an effective springboard to move forward with similar, more in-depth discussions in smaller groups focused on particular fields, such as floodplain management and mitigation programs. The hope is that these Silver Jackets sessions prime the pump for not only more statewide interest in preparedness and reduction of flood risks, but the implementation of strategies to turn those discussions into realities.
Inspired by the colors worn by disaster-response agencies, like the red of USACE or the blue worn by FEMA, the Silver Jackets name is symbolic, representing the common mission of a single team composed of diverse agencies, including USACE, FEMA and state emergency management.
The state’s team was chartered in 2013 by USACE, the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – now the West Virginia Division of Emergency Management — and FEMA. A new charter will be prepared in the upcoming year to include agencies that have joined since the original signing. The coalition is now comprised of federal agencies, including the National Weather Service; state agencies, like the Department of Transportation; and professional organizations, such as the West Virginia Floodplain Management Association
Together, the team identifies common agency interests and works to align their goals, resources and technical expertise to reduce the risk of flooding, the most common natural disaster that befalls the Mountain State.
To learn more about the Silver Jackets, visit silverjackets.nfrmp.us Information about the West Virginia team can be found at silverjackets.nfrmpus/State-Teams/West-Virginia. Go to wvcad.org/resiliency and wvinsurance.gov/consumerservices/Consumer-Services/Flood-Insurance to find out more about the state’s Resiliency Office and National Flood Insurance Program Office. Preparedness resources are available at ready.gov.