The Department of Emergency Management (DEM) is to revise the national shutdown policy, which came under scrutiny last year after a number of businesses remained open during the passage of Tropical Storm Matthew last September in defiance of the advice of the state-run agency that everyone should remain indoors until the all-clear was given.
DEM Director Kerry Hinds did not provide details when she met Thursday with journalists for a press conference to mark the official start of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, but suggested that changes were under way.
“The guidelines are there to stay. Of course at some time . . . as with any plan or procedure that we have at the national level, there is room for review and updating of the guidelines and of course that is done through a consultative process. The national shutdown guidelines . . . [are] no different,” Hinds said.
Arguably the most visible among those who decided to keep their businesses open during the passage of the storm was Minister of Housing Denis Kellman, who remained unapologetic amid a mountain of criticism from the public and some of his Cabinet colleagues, including Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who had said it was “irresponsible” for businesses to place their employees’ lives in danger by asking them to report to work despite a national shutdown.
Then Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy had also described the businesses as “very naughty”, and had promised a Cabinet probe.
However, nothing has been heard since from the Freundel Stuart administration, and it later emerged that the DEM’s own 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.
Hinds Thursday said there was room for improvement in national readiness, as well as the national shutdown policy, even as she suggested that Barbadians needed to gain a better understanding of the policy.
“With respect to the . . . furor over the national shutdown procedure, it is an approved guideline; however, we will seek to ensure during these next few weeks that we make persons a bit more aware of the guidelines. It was there since 2014 so there are persons who need to be refreshed on the context on the guidelines,” Hinds said, adding that “a pervasive public awareness programme” was being planned in collaboration with the Barbados Government Information Service, “as we seek to ensure that persons are much more aware of the various plans and policies that we work with on a consistent basis”.
The disaster preparedness official called on Barbadians to take the messages of hurricane preparedness seriously, urging that lessons be learned from the Tropical Storm Matthew experiences.
“In many cases these hydro meteorological hazards . . . expose our vulnerabilities, and might I dare say our shared vulnerabilities as an inter-dependent system. There is a need to continue to strengthen mechanisms for more effective management of hazards that may affect us,” she stressed.