NASSAU –– National Emergency Management Association officials defended their efforts to warn Bahamians about Hurricane Joaquin yesterday even as they accused the media of playing a role in not keeping people in the southern Bahamas informed about the danger and proximity of the monster storm.
Mical MP V Alfred Gray has criticized NEMA and the Department of Meteorology over the issue, saying “heads should roll” over their actions. He has also said it appeared as though the two agencies were “seemingly caught off guard”.
Residents throughout the southern islands have also said they were surprised by the storm and its rapid intensification. In Acklins, one of the islands most affected by the storm, no emergency shelters were open as the storm bore down.
However, Acting Director of Meteorology Trevor Basden said yesterday that the warnings issued for Hurricane Joaquin were timely.
He said that even though the National Hurricane Centre (NHC), which is located in Florida, had data and models that indicated the storm would not affect the Bahamas, local officials still made the decision to issue hurricane warnings for the central Bahamas and hurricane alerts for north-western Bahamas.
The first hurricane warning was issued at Tuesday midnight of last week, Basden said. However, it does not appear that any warning was issued for southern Bahamas at the time.
“[The storm] was drifting, moving at three and five miles per hour with no clear steering current,” he said. “It wasn’t expected to move into the Bahamas. It was formed some 381 miles to the closest point in the Bahamas, San Salvador. Normally systems move between eight and 12 miles per hour. Once we realized that this system was drifting, we had no confidence in the models.
“Realizing models were not tracking the storm properly, we were careful and issued a hurricane watch for the Bahamas for preparedness sake. It was only at 11 a.m. Tuesday [September 29] that any guidance or tracking forecast had it moving towards the Bahamas.
“From our timelines, when we went through necessary alerts and warnings that were issued, they were timely. We were well within the timeline. We held our responsibility and performed to the maximum.”
Ronald Jackson, executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, supported Basden’s statements, saying: “To the [credit of local officials], they decided to bring a watch and alert at a time when the hurricane centre had a forecast that would’ve taken the hurricane away from Bahamas.
“Had [the local officials] not done that, we would’ve been looking at a situation where no warnings or alerts would’ve been followed. They recognized something different from what the NHC was saying and that is what we saw from our offices in Barbados.”
Nonetheless, Lindsay Thompson, a communications officer at NEMA, suggested that in terms of people being caught off guard by the storm, some fault lay with the media for failing to ensure warnings are publicized throughout the country.
“We rely on you to get the word out to the public, which is part of your civic duty as well,” she said. “So yes, we have to bear some of the responsibility, meaning members of the public. [NEMA] has to bear some of that responsibility ourselves, and yes, as much as the media does their part and that is commendable, maybe you have to step up your game in terms of getting your signal to other parts of the country.
“I’m not getting into your pockets or how you evolve your stations but I’m thinking the way forward and as a developing country, ZNS is doing its part and maybe the other media needs to step up and hey, have your signal go out to other parts of the country so everybody could turn into NB12, Guardian Radio, JCN.”
After a reporter noted that not all media houses had licenses to broadcast throughout the country, Thompson said: “I know but that needs to be addressed on some level. Maybe you need to go back to the table and say this is of national