Nicole DelValle is like a walking billboard for disaster preparation. She knows all about the hazards that pose a threat to the community. She can recite hurricane statistics and facts about the nuclear power plant in Surry.
DelValle is an emergency management specialist who works in the city’s Division of Emergency Management. Her job is to know how to prepare residents for disasters and how to plan for potential emergencies in the city.
DelValle is calm, cool and a virtual fact book, complete with everything no one really wants to think about happening. She and George Glazner, deputy coordinator of the department, are part of a team that works to bring all facets of the city together so everyone is on the same page when they need to react to a crisis.
“We connect all different levels of the city,” Glazner says. “Preparedness is a big part of our job. When something happens, we furnish people with information about what to do in certain circumstances.”
DelValle says much of what they do in the office, located off Oyster Point Road amongst a sea of city operations buildings, revolves around mitigation, planning and response. They work with private business, citizens and city officials to map out plans and review how to react to specific scenarios.
“No matter what the hazard, everything starts with a basic plan,” she says. “The cycle of things is constantly evolving. We are always working to improve it.”
Advancements in technology have helped emergency planners to communicate quickly with city residents, advising them on how to deal with emergencies. Recently, when a severe storm pounded Newport News, the emergency office sent out a mobile message to Hilton residents, warning them of a tornado in the area and telling them to immediately take shelter. The city can narrow down an area of notification to just a neighborhood, if necessary.
“We can save lives because of technology and we’re using it,” DelValle says. “We are able to notify people more quickly.”
Emergency planners are versed in how to handle a plethora of disasters. Hurricanes are a significant one for the Peninsula. DelValle says the idea is to educate people to the point where they immediately know what to do when a hurricane is looming. Planners conduct hurricane briefings and activate response teams. Much of their time is spent planning for the “what-ifs.” Surprises are avoided in this office. They have thought through every possible scenario with numerous city officials well before the threat is real.
“When we work together before an event, there is going to be a much better result,” DelValle says. “There are lots of ‘aha’ moments.”
DelValle works to ensure that everyone has plans in place, with numerous training and practice runs so all aspects of an emergency are considered ahead of an actual crisis.
“We practice like we play,” she says. “We try to be two to three steps ahead.”
“It takes the whole community to make a more resilient community,” Glazner says, “We look for opportunities to protect against threat.”
Inside the building, there is an emergency operations center (EOC), also a sort of war room. This is the place where officials from across the city convene in the event of a major situation. When the EOC is activated, it is the hub for managing the event at hand. It is a room full of computers, maps, projectors and anything else one could need to gather information and prepare a reaction. The room is activated during potential emergencies, and also at times of major city events that have potential to require all-hands-on-board situation mitigation. For example, it is used during the One City Marathon and also the city’s winter programming event in City Center. All departments are represented, including police and fire chiefs. The mayor also has a seat in the EOC and is there to assist when necessary.
“It’s a place of collaboration, where we decide how to proceed,” DelValle says.
Being at the forefront of emergency preparedness is more than a job for DelValle. She embraces it and is always looking for ways for the city to be better and safer. There is very little in the way of crises that DelValle and others in the department can’t address. They work every day to make sure city residents are protected and informed of possible risks.
“I see the fruits of our labor,” she says. “I’m fulfilled if I’ve made someone a little more prepared for a crisis. I get a lot of job satisfaction. I feel value in what I do. The reward comes when someone makes a better choice.”
TO THE POINT:
Newport News Division of Emergency Management
Address: 513 Oyster Point Rd., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: George Glazner, deputy coordinator