At the height of the 2014 hurricane season when our national interest in disaster management issues is generally piqued, a question posed at a Caribbean Disaster Management Programming Consultation here this morning at Hilton Barbados should be enough to jolt us out of our slumber.
It came from visiting economist Frederic Martin, who asked if we had done a full evaluation of
an IT disaster?
The question was enough to throw a room full of top disaster officials into temporary silence, since it not only shows up one of our worst fears as a technologically driven society, but it also highlights a serious weakness in our preparedness approach.
For many of us, the word disaster still means hurricanes or earthquakes, and on a average day there is no thought of crisis planning unless it is triggered by an emergency bulletin, that usually signals a weather system is near.
Once that system passes, so too does our concern –– unless we suffered some immediate impact.
Thankfully, for us there are individuals and agencies strictly focused on combating the impact of disaster on us –– both at the national and regional level.
We can now take comfort in the fact that the region’s leading disaster management agency, CDEMA, has in hand a comprehensive strategy for the area, which takes into account the needs of all 18 of its participating member states, including Barbados.
From what we have seen and heard of this plan, it is a very well thought out initiative, but it will need the cooperation and partnership of us all if it is redound to more than a great plan on paper.
Of significant worry for us as a region is the upward trend in terms of the number of disaster occurrences and deaths, and the amount of damage, given our recent experiences with Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010 that claimed over 250,000 lives, and more recently the Christmas Eve scenario in Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
While Barbados has generally escaped recent catastrophe, we too have an important question to face up to.
It is: Are we as a nation really prepared for any eventuality?
Recent history with small but powerful systems, such as Tomas, would suggest not.
In fact, just yesterday all that occurred was a sharp shower of rain and the end result was several flooded roads and serious headaches for many motorists and commuters. But lest we forget, we could just as easily be impacted by disaster, as Mother Nature forcefully reminded us earlier this year through the jolt of an earthquake.
As small as it was, it was enough to shatter any lingering belief that “God is a Bajan”, and that nothing will happen to us.
On the contrary, we need to do as the European Union Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Mikael Barfod reminded us this morning: “Wish for the best but prepare for the worst.”
A word to the wise in the midst of an active hurricane season!