A call has been made for telecommunications companies in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean to strengthen their cell towers to withstand category 5 hurricanes.
This was one of the major recommendations arising out of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s (CTO) State of the Tourism Industry Conference, which concluded today at the Grenada Radisson Hotel.
In the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria which devastated Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica and Saint Martin last month, regional industry players said communication emerged as one of the most critical needs.
They said families of guests trapped on islands were thrown into panic as they were unable to ascertain the status of loved ones.
Outlining the decisions taken by regional stakeholders, CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley explained that while countries like Barbados were spared the worst of the superstorms, it was important that service providers stepped up their communications infrastructure.
It was revealed that most cell towers could withstand category 3 winds but given the frequency and strength of recent hurricanes this was no longer adequate.
“It was recommended that the telecommunications companies look at their structural integrity and the resilience of their equipment.
“There was a discussion about the fact that cell phone towers seem to go fairly quickly in any vicious storm. These towers have traditionally been built to withstand category 3 hurricanes and we understand that category 5 technology is available. So the recommendation is to make sure that those are everywhere,” said Riley.
The CTO top official said communication was also integral for letting prospective visitors know just how much of an island might be damaged and how many hotels were open for business.
“Improved communication and coordination was really the overriding initial recommendation. It was accepted that there could be better coordination between the emergency management agencies of the impacted countries, governments and the international community.
“There was also the issue of improved messaging. This is critically important because we have to be able to help the public, consumer and trade, to understand what has happened in one part of the Caribbean and what is still operational in other parts,” Riley said, adding that funding was needed to counter any misinformation.
Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Tourism and Marketing Inc. (BTMI) William Billy Griffith had reported that the island suffered fallout due to misinformation in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma last month.
Griffith said this was due to some United States-based airlines and international booking agencies confusing Barbados with storm-battered Barbuda, and deciding not to book flights to Barbados because they were of the impression it was devastated.
However, Riley told members of the media that the Caribbean was slow to counteract the false messaging because the funding, which could run into millions of dollars, was not readily available, adding that efforts were underway to create a fund to deal with such matters in the future.