Statewide Tornado Drill

Once again, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) is partnering with the National Weather Service to promote Virginia’s Severe Weather Awareness Week. The week is designed to refresh, remind, and educate everyone about the seasonal threats from severe weather and how to avoid them. It’s also a great time to make and practice your emergency plan!

The week is usually planned for March and includes a statewide tornado drill. The 2023 Severe Weather Awareness Week will be from March 6-10, with the Statewide Tornado Drill taking place on Tuesday, March 7, at 9:45 a.m.

Each day during the week, a different topic will be covered and shared on social media. The information shared will be preparedness tips and ways to stay safe during severe weather.

Monday: Watch vs Warning
Tuesday: Tornadoes
Wednesday: Severe Thunderstorms (Hail, Lightning, and Wind)
Thursday: Flash Flooding
Friday: Outdoor Weather Safety

For more information about Severe Weather Awareness Week 2023, please click here.

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County Shelter Procedures: What to Do If You Are on The Road in an Emergency

Knowing what to do and where to go during an emergency is one of the basics of emergency preparedness. This is usually straightforward in an office setting, and knowing your evacuation routes, assembly areas, and sheltering locations is a great start. But what if your job involves fieldwork and you spend some or most of your day driving from one place to the next?  

Fires, other man-made disasters, natural disasters, and severe weather are all very real possibilities in Henrico County. Severe weather of some type is almost guaranteed during certain times of the year. However, planning for such emergencies can be difficult, especially for employees who work in the field. 

In this case, communication is vital. 

Always speak with your supervisor to ensure you know and understand emergency notification procedures. For groups using vehicles or handheld radios, that is usually the best and fastest way to communicate emergency information to an entire group. Also, for employees who don’t carry a radio but use a work mobile phone, group messaging can notify larger groups of employees at one time. Either way, make sure you know the procedures in your group.

Once the emergency information is sent out, what’s next? In some situations, the emergency may be restricted to a particular part of the county. For example, a tornado watch may be in effect for the entire county, but often a tornado warning (when a tornado is either physically seen or shows up on radar) might be only for a portion of the county. Employees working in Varina don’t usually need to shelter for a tornado warning in Short Pump. In these situations, listening to local news broadcasts can sometimes give specific information on the affected area. Summer thunderstorms often affect more extensive parts of the county. For mobile employees with outdoor duties, it’s usually best to seek shelter in your vehicle until you get an idea of the storm’s extent and direction. For supervisors, it’s sometimes best to bring these groups back to the shop or their central location for a while.  

What about a significant event – like a tornado – that often gives little to no warning and can bring devastating damage? The first priority would be finding a nearby sturdy building where you can shelter in a basement or on the ground floor, away from doors and windows. Unfortunately, finding an appropriate location during an emergency can be difficult or near impossible. 

Below are recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

  • If you are outdoors, find safe shelter right away.
  • If you can safely get to a sturdy building, do so immediately.
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You’re safe in a low, flat location.
  • Watch out for flying debris that can cause injury or death.
  • Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If no building is available, there is no single recommendation for how to protect yourself best. However, new research shows that larger, more stable vehicles can often be an acceptable “last resort” during weather emergencies. If you must shelter in your vehicle, always keep your seatbelt fastened, avoid bridges and overpasses, and protect your head and neck. 

If no vehicle is available, find a low-lying area like a ditch (as long as there is no flooding expected), lay down on your stomach, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands. If one is available, protect yourself with a heavy jacket, blanket, or other similar items.

Because there are numerous county facilities, you may be near one and not even know it. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the location of fire stations, libraries, and county offices. While there is no formal procedure for seeking shelter in a county facility, in an actual emergency, you may need to. Regardless of the location, make sure not to block emergency vehicles or disrupt essential services.  

As with any safety issue, communication is vital. Before going out for the day, ensure you’re familiar with your group’s communication methods. Keep your eyes open for potential shelter locations where you frequently work. And if you are forced to shelter, let a supervisor know as soon as it is safe to do so.   

If you’re looking for additional information on severe weather and sheltering, check out, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, or the National Weather Service websites.

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EMWS and the Role of Safety Laiasons

September was National Preparedness month and October hosts the Great Shakeout Event. What do these have to do with Henrico County Employees? Enter the Department of Emergency Management and Workplace Safety (EMWS) and their mission to make sure employees are prepared and informed of what to do in the case of a workplace emergency.

Workplace emergencies can be due to human error, natural, or a combination of both. Earthquakes and severe weather events can damage structures and cause injuries or death. Natural events, like lightning strikes, can spark fires or directly strike individuals. Structure fires may be confined to a specific area or affect an entire building. Within the Department of Emergency Management and Workplace Safety (EMWS), there are several hazards with significant overlap in preparedness procedures like emergency evacuation and sheltering. Overall, planning and practicing these techniques aims to have informed employees who know what to do if and when the real thing happens.

We all remember our school days when fire drills were formulaic, straightforward events. Straight lines and silence were the most important factors. The occasional hotel or dorm room false alarm may have been the last practice some of us remember. Depending on the size and complexity of the workplace, an evacuation may be as simple as leaving the office and turning left or right. Or, it may be a complex series of following signs, avoiding elevators and struggling to get to an assembly area.

For those who grew up on the east coast, sheltering may be a relatively new concept. Tornadoes were fairly infrequent, and most of us had never experienced an earthquake until 2013. Also, workplace violence has unfortunately become something we must think about and prepare for. Although finding a safe location in a basement, on a lower floor, and away from windows and doors is a simple concept, it’s not necessarily so in a shared work area.

 As employees, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA or “VOSH” in Virginia) entitles us to a workplace free from recognized hazards. Traditionally, there are guards on power tools, and any required PPE is provided at no charge. Additionally, where severe weather or man-made emergencies could threaten the workplace, VOSH requires an Emergency Action Plan or an “EAP” (not to be confused with an Employee Assistance Program). EAPs dictate that employees are informed of evacuation routes, assembly areas, and sheltering locations. Additionally, employers are required to identify any employees who have emergency-related duties. In most places, this is someone who can account for all employees once at the assembly area. In other work areas, this may be the person designated to cut off the natural gas supply to prevent larger-scale damage to a facility before evacuation.

This seemingly simple task is quite complicated for an employer with almost 5000 employees at multiple work locations (some with no fixed location at all). For example, how do we make sure that employees who evacuate the Admin Building don’t all end up in the same parking area without enough room for everyone? How do we ensure an evacuation assembly area isn’t in the exact location that emergency services will need to stage equipment and responders? Also, shelter locations are usually limited in the number of employees that can shelter there – and let’s not even add in COVID protocols and social distancing! The answer to all these situations involves EMWS staff in both the Emergency Management and Workplace Safety sides. EMWS coordinates the Safety Liaison program, which brings together employees from different work areas at all levels of responsibility. Safety Liaisons help communicate these requirements to their work areas, including directly to co-workers and sometimes to managers or agency heads. Safety Liaisons and EMWS staff meet quarterly to discuss various emergency preparedness topics and help prepare for drills and exercises.

On 10/21/2021 at 10:21, approximately 2400 Henrico County employees participated in an earthquake drill called the Great ShakeOut. Safety Liaisons helped work areas prepare for an exercise that simulated an earthquake, including demonstrating proper sheltering techniques. Participant surveys and after-action discussions collected both the positive outcomes as well as some suggestions for improvement. The next county-wide event will be the 2022 ShakeOut on 10/20/2022 at 10:20. The statewide Virginia Severe Weather Awareness and Tornado Drill is scheduled for 03/08/2023, and a county-wide fire drill is planned for later in 2023. Look for information in your work area for these upcoming events.  

If you have questions about emergency preparedness, evacuations, sheltering, or other similar issues, please check EMWS on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram or contact us at [email protected].


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Henrico’s Second Annual Safe + Sound Week!

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has selected August 12 -19 as Safe + Sound Week for 2019. This nationwide event promotes workplace safety awareness for all employees. Participation in Safe + Sound Week shows a commitment to safety through county leadership and worker participation.

The Division of Fire’s Office of Emergency Management and Workplace Safety (EMWS) in cooperation with other Henrico departments will be exhibiting safety-orientated displays for County employees to experience.

The primary event will be held on Wednesday, August 14th at the Central Automotive Maintenance (CAM) facility at Woodman Road between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. FREE hot dogs, chips and drinks will be provided to all attendees at the Woodman location on August 14 and a display table featuring Red Wing Shoes will be set up at the Woodman site as well.

A County-wide e-mail will be sent closer to August 12 outlining events scheduled for other days of the week. Employees participating in Safe + Sound Week activities will have opportunities to win raffle prizes.

Please visit the Power Henrico site on Monday, August 12 view Deputy County Manager Tony McDowell’s charge to all employees for Safe + Sound Week.

Effective safety and health programs help Virginia businesses and municipalities by:

  • Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses
  • Improving compliance with occupational safety and health standards
  • Reducing costs, including significant reductions in workers’ compensation premiums
  • Engaging employees so they’re mindful of safe work practices at all times
  • Enhancing social responsibility goals
  • Increasing productivity and enhancing overall operations

Henrico Departments/Divisions Participating in Safe + Sound Week: Emergency Management (Fire); Workman’s Compensation and Claims (Finance-Risk Management); Employee Health Services (Human Resources); Recreation and Parks; Environmental Safety (Fire); Fitness and Wellness (Human Resources); Occupational Safety (Fire); Public Utilities; Police; Fire and Schools.

If you need additional information or have questions once the County-wide email is sent, please email Safety Officers Ann Fowler or Lisa Dutton.

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