Barbados’ emergency management apparatus is in good shape, but needed infrastructural improvements are being hemmed in by limited financial resources.
As much as it was ideal to have purpose-built emergency centres and a state-of-the-art operations hub for the Department of Emergency Management, Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite said today, money was the primary constraint.
He was speaking at the DEM’s Warrens, St. Michael headquarters as officials monitored the island’s brush with Tropical Storm Chantal and in the context of some emergency centres being downgraded from category one to two.
In terms of a new facility for the DEM, Brathwaite said: “I wish I had the money tomorrow to build a facility… We have identified where it will be, which would be at Lears — we have the land. What we don’t have presently are the resources to build the facility, but it is my hope in the not too distant future that that will change.
“We do have a plan B, which is that we do have an alternative… We can go to District A, which I think is probably a better building structurally than (where) we are. But … we do need our own facility, … a facility that can house us if we have to stay for two or three days, that can house two teams at once, but we have to work with what we have now and I thank the staff for acknowledging that.
“It’s not the Hilton Hotel by any means but I think that we recognise that we have to work with what we have for now,” he said.
As for emergency shelters, which included many of the island’s schools, Brathwaite said money was also a challenge, but noted that this would be partially alleviated by the fact that new learning institutions were being constructed with improved accommodation of this type.
“We have been reviewing all of our shelters, we have a responsibility to ensure that if we say that a shelter is category one that in fact it is a category one. So the fact that we have downgraded a few shelters is it a cause for alarm? Probably no. What it means is that we are doing our job because we don’t want to lull people into a false sense of security,” he said.
“In an ideal situation would we like to have more purpose built buildings? The answer is yes. What you would have noted is that … all of our new schools are having almost a purpose built facility within them.
“Blackman and Gollop is a good example that has an excellent self contained area where there is a room, I don’t remember how many people it can hold, I think a hundred plus, toilet facilities … etcetera and in speaking to the Minister of Education all of our future schools will have a purpose built aspect of it to be able to be used for shelter.”
Beyond such challenges, Brathwaite was generally happy that during his near three years as Minister of Home Affairs the emergency management system had “gotten it right in terms of our ability to respond and I think a lot has to do with the team that we have”.
He said the team from management to first responders had gotten it right today during the passage of Tropical Storm Chantal and had the experience of October 2010’s Tropical Storm Tomas to refer to. Brathwaite also urged Barbadians not to take things for granted.
“The lesson for the public of Barbados obviously is the fact that they should take our messages more seriously when we say to be prepared. We are consistently saying that you don’t need to be waiting until a system comes to be ready,” he said.
“You know that June 1 the hurricane season begins so you begin from early. Not everyone can buy everything at once (so) you buy a little thing here, store some water here etcetera, but I think we need to get our message right.” (SC)