We are now in the second week of May, and June 1 will usher in the 2013 Hurricane Season. Hotelier Alvin Jemmott suggested in his most recent Barbados Today column that the country needed to be prepare for the 2013 season. He said that May was the best time to review the year’s previous actions and to meet with the planning committee for the incoming year.
While I completely endorse his opinions, it also supports a view long held by many that Barbados, like many other countries, still have not changed their approach to one of the most consistent hazards that has the potential to wreck major damage to any society.
In January, we said that we would observe, over a 100 day period, the planning, preparedness, and mitigation activities of the country to determine whether any significant activity would be unveiled during our review. The 100 day review also included the elections campaigning and the eventual results; in which I had hoped that a significant statement would have been made that would have suggested that definitive planning and operational change would be occurring in the emergency management community.
Alas, that did not happen! Instead, the media continued to report on the activities of the day, which included the never ending traffic accidents, resulting in another death and more trauma for the families left behind.
The media reports highlighted the fight to free one person from confinement and the search for persons who have issues with law enforcement. The reports also highlighted in the media the contrasting views of unions and management and the call for the conclusion of long standing issues regarding the payment of outstanding pay to some workers.
However, no significant statement regarding improvement in the response and planning procedures regarding the 2013 Hurricane Season has been made. While it would be fair to say that the discipline of emergency planning is a fluid process in which activities in this area must remain constant based on population density and expansion of physical infrastructure; that does not excuse state and community emergency planners from improving their capabilities before the advent of a catastrophic scenario.
The 100 day review has not revealed any significant pronouncement for 2013. One of the most significant scenarios occurring was the unfortunate St. Thomas industrial fire which wrecked financial havoc on a major business operation, severely affected the operations of it business neighbours, and provoked all of the neighbouring residents into public protests about the response, and who would be paying for the clean-up of their properties; a claim which is still to be answered.
The review also looked at the current activities of the 30 District Emergency Organisations, and their constant complaint about Government’s apparent lack-lustre attitude toward them as a group. The regional emergency management organisation now has a new head, and the outgoing head once more pleaded for an across-the-board awakening of all players within the disaster response and planning community; both at the public and private sector levels. The outgoing head, said that this was an area which required immediate attention, if definitive positive action were to be realised.
One volunteer organisation begun celebrations to highlight their 20 years of community response as a volunteer first response organisation; however no congratulatory statement from the public or private sector highlighting this achievement has been forthcoming.
It is unfortunate that we must now consider our 100 day review as a very uneventful period within the emergency management fraternity. It is important to note that if there has been significant achievements made during this period, the media has not been made aware of it, and neither has the citizens of this country, who will immediately be screaming for help the moment a catastrophic event impacts their lives.
This column has been providing over the past three years, helpful hints and preparedness suggestions that will be of personal benefit to the residents prior to the arrival of each hurricane season. The print and electron media also presents their usual hurricane supplements and audio/visual productions containing preparedness and mitigation hints for the home owner.
While I am sure that this information presented is welcomed by all, it does not negate the fact that unless there is significant tangible technical infrastructural change in how Government conducts its emergency managerial administrative affairs, this hurricane season will once more be greeted by “fluffy” official presentations and overly worded managerial statements; the Barbadian community who will once more be depending and relying on the administration to provide immediate professionally coordinated disaster relief, will once be found wanting, and subject to another set of public criticism from all corners.
Tangible improvement in the emergency management administrative structure has long been called for by the majority of practitioners in this field. While this call, in the opinion of some, may have been a deservedly call, it is irrelevant, because tangible administrative change without technical improvements in the systems of response and preparedness planning will only serve to add another layer of confusion to an already confused system.
There is a need for a comprehensive improvement in our public warning and alert systems, regardless of the hazard type. There is a need for a thorough examination of the technical response skills of some of responders, and the implementation of comprehensive selective training that will correct some of the deficiencies seen in some responders.
There is a need for greater communication between Government’s urban and city planners, residential communities and the industrial sector, due to the ever increasing encroachment by industrial private sector operations into the residential areas.
The recent St. Thomas fire is a perfect example of what happens when both parties fail to explain their needs. The 2013 hurricane season will wait for no man, no government, no community, and it certainly will not wait another 100 days for systems to improve or present change, that will foster confidence in you, the recipients.