An Ounce of Prevention

Hampton Roads fortunately dodged a major bullet this month – Hurricane Florence. This storm posed a major threat to life and property across our region, and our thoughts and prayers are with communities in North and South Carolina and elsewhere where impacts have been significant.

The safety of our customers and employees is central to our mission at Hampton Roads Transit. In events like this, we also have an obligation to safely secure facilities and equipment to ensure they are ready for use as quickly as possible during recovery efforts.

In the case of Hurricane Florence, as Governor Northam declared a state of emergency and mandatory evacuations for parts of our region, our staff acted promptly and with great professionalism.

With Florence looming off the coast, the City of Norfolk requested that transit customers be able to ride free on September 12th to reach designated Emergency Shelters and other destinations throughout the service area. HRT responded to garner the necessary support and collaboration among all HRT member cities, and by 5pm on Tuesday was able to publicly announce free bus service for the following day.

Taking every step necessary to preserve life and property, HRT suspended light rail and ferry service on September 12th and all services on September 13th. Similarly, schools, businesses and cities did not take the hurricane threats lightly, and all began shutting down.

We executed a detailed process of winding down services, including securing ticket vending machines, storing light rail vehicles on elevated tracks, and docking ferries at a secure location on the Elizabeth River. We also made plans to safely store buses, and Oceanfront trolleys were sent to the garage in Hampton.

Staff spent time securing buildings that are particularly exposed to risks from flooding, including the Norfolk Tide Facility, the Mangrove Avenue warehouse, and the Parks Avenue garage in Virginia Beach. All these locations are in flood Zone A.

We communicated with our partners and through press coverage, and notices were also communicated externally through email Customer Alerts, social media,, and printed flyers at transit centers. Customers calling HRT received automatic updates through the IVR phone system.

Thankfully, Hurricane Florence turned sufficiently south and away from the region. Our facilities and core operational systems were able to be fully restored on Saturday (these systems include things like LRT Traction Power Substations, Train Control Signal Systems and the Operations Control Center, as well as Bus and Rail Fare Collection Systems and the Bus Radio Control Center), and normal transit operations were restarted systemwide on Sunday morning.

We will certainly take lessons learned from this event. Departments have conducted debriefings, and on Friday staff across all departments performed an agency-wide after-action review.  I’m very proud of our staff, who demonstrated great teamwork and collaboration and went above and beyond the call of duty preparing for the storm and restoring services, with very little setbacks.

We are truly blessed that the storm changed paths and didn’t negatively impact Hampton Roads as it could have, and our thoughts and prayers are with those in the Carolinas who have not been as fortunate.

William Harrell
President & CEO, Hampton Roads Transit