The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season got off to a peaceful start, probably unnoticed by most, and it is hoped that it will end on an equally quiet note.
The last thing Barbados needs, given our economic turbulence, is a hurricane headed in this direction.
However, we remain mindful of the fact that this island will be exposed to whatever develops in the Atlantic, be it a Category One hurricane or a tropical wave.
At the start of the month, weather forecasters gave us enough reason to be fully prepared individually and as a country, with predictions of an above average season with about 14 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
Last September, Tropical Storm Matthew gave us a timely reminder that God is not a Bajan and we can’t control weather systems – where they hit or when they hit.
But even with this knowledge, it would be easy to hazard a guess that many private citizens and businesses are not ready for what could potentially unfold.
At the start of the month, the Department of Emergency Management delivered its customary early pleadings for us Barbadians to finalize our disaster plans – stock up on canned goods, update our insurance coverage, clean up our surroundings, and know the shelters in our communities, among other things.
However, there was a glaring omission.
Nine months after the passage of Matthew on September 28, there is still no word on the national shutdown policy.
One would have thought that after the confusion resulting from some business owners – including Minister of Housing Denis Kellman who engaged in the potentially hazardous practice of continuing operations with employees on the job during the passage of the storm – that this would have been enough to motivate authorities to avert a repeat this hurricane season.
Even more so since Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite and two of his Cabinet colleagues, the then Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy and Minister of Commerce and Industry Donville Inniss, had strongly condemned the move.
Brathwaite said at the time that it was nothing short of “irresponsible” for businesses to place their employees’ lives in danger by asking them to report for work in the midst of a national shutdown and a passing storm.
“While we understand the importance of businesses and what they are trying to do . . . I think it is irresponsible for these institutions, if what I am hearing is correct, to open for business . . . when we are asking persons to stay indoors because of how dangerous their surroundings are.”
We were also told that Mr Brathwaite, who is also the Attorney General, was looking into the matter with a view to possibly making it mandatory for businesses to comply with State-declared orders to shut down.
As recent as last month, President of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) Marguerite Estwick raised the concern that there was still no clear national shutdown procedure ahead of the start of the hurricane season.
So why the delay in instituting this important policy?
Certainly, our authorities could not be waiting until a system rolls off the Atlantic to issue a directive on how Barbados will handle a national shutdown.
This is far too critical a matter to be left to chance.
As suggested, the national shutdown policy should have been tabled as part of comprehensive legislation to guide this country’s management and response to disasters.
Legislation is an essential tool to achieve the desired results.
So far, our authorities have dropped the ball on this important issue. Maybe we’ve gotten complacent since the last storm.
But now is the time for authorities to rectify this matter with urgency.
How we plan and react to the threat of a storm can make a big difference to our recovery efforts – and God knows, Barbados can ill afford any more disasters.