The Department of Emergency Management (DEM) has, in the past, asked supermarkets to remain open during tropical disturbances, it emerged today.
In a review of the controversy that surrounded the opening of some businesses during the passage of Tropical Storm Matthew last month, supermarket owners and operators said they were perplexed at the criticism they received from Government and the public for offering service to the community during the storm.
Among those that came under fire from Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite and Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss was Carlton & A1 Supermarkets.
Today, its owner Andrew Bynoe told a panel discussion organized by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Hilton Hotel, all he was doing when he remained open was acceding to a request he receives every year from the Government department responsible for disaster management.
“I want to speak for the supermarket sector. Every year we receive a request from the emergency organization [DEM] asking if we would be available to open our supermarket in the event of a hurricane. Usually I have said yes for the last umpteen years. So here is a request that if we have extremely bad weather I am prepared, along with members of my family and other dedicated members of staff, to leave our homes, drive through whatever debris there is on the road, to open our stores so that the shelters can get water, etc,” Bynoe said while expressing bemusement at the public ridicule he received for doing what he believed to be the request of the relevant authorities.
“Here it is that we have a shutdown for 6 o’clock, and at 8 o’clock we have many people still at the door clamouring to get in, so we remain open and got licks galore. So indeed we need to address this in a much better way than previously.”
The DEM’s Policy Framework and Standard Operating Procedures for the Systematic Shutdown and Reactivation of Barbados in times of severe weather, tropical storms or hurricanes lists supermarkets – as well as utility companies, minimarts, shops, pharmacies, general stores, including hardware stores and lumberyards, companies that provide public transportation and telecommunication providers – as essential services.
It was for this reason that the business community called for clarity on the protocols for a national shutdown during the discussion which explored the implications for business, shutdown procedures, business continuity, and employer and employee rights.
“What is clear though, is that there needs to be more clarity with respect to how does one go about shutting down the country,” Bynoe stressed.
During the passage of the storm Brathwaite had described the decision to remain open as “irresponsible”, and at a news conference the following day, then Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy had said Brathwaite was looking into the matter with a view to possibly making it mandatory to comply with state-declared orders to shut down.
Inniss would later join in the condemnation of businesses that put the “almighty dollar” ahead of the safety and security of consumers and staff in times of disaster.
One of the operators who also came in for criticism was Minister of Housing Denis Kellman who kept his St Elmo’s Moontown hardware business open, but who remained defiant throughout, insisting in a Facebook posting that those criticizing his actions were “jealous” that his “mall” was able to serve customers on the day.
Kellman did not attend today’s event.
The DEM’s policy framework states that there will be a staggered approach to a national shutdown to “ensure that key elements of national operations are allowed to maintain an effective level of operation for as long as possible while at the same time facilitating the systematic closure of non-essential operations”.
Schools and day care centres for both adults and children are listed as priority and the first to close, followed by non-essential operations of the public service, with non-essential operations of the private sector as the last to shut down.