The mettle of regional disaster management officials was put to the test this week as they responded to a category five hurricane during a simulation exercise.
Over the past week, officials from several Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) states were challenged to respond to an emergency while grappling with conflicting information, a lack of details and logistical and communication challenges.
The exercise, which took place at the Hilton Resort, saw officials from Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and Antigua and Barbuda taking part.
The training and simulation exercise formed part of the World Food Programme’s (WFPs) efforts to help regional governments and agencies better prepare for disasters especially in the area of food security.
WFP recently opened an office in Barbados after several years of hiatus, in order to better serve the Eastern Caribbean disaster preparedness structures through various regional organizations and governments.
Head of WFP Barbados Regis Chapman told Barbados TODAY the group was required to develop strategies and plans “to meet the needs of the populations that are affected”.
“We are simulating an emergency situation and in this case, [it was] a category five hurricane that passes through and affects multiple countries. We are using fictitious countries to bring people out of their traditional comfort zones and roles and have them look at problems through lenses that they normally would not,” said Chapman.
“The simulation is effectively mocking the food security sector of a humanitarian response, but clearly when a catastrophe happens it is not just food security that becomes a problem. It is water and shelter and a number of other issues. So while their emphasis is on meeting the food needs of the populations, it is looking a little bit beyond that,” he explained.
“This is meant to be a learning experience. It allows the participants to take some of these lessons back and strengthen their co-ordination among different actors within the national governments. [This will] create a greater understanding of mechanisms within the region and external support that might come in the event of larger emergencies,” he said.
No country or region will be able to adequately respond to a category five hurricane on their own no matter how developed they are, Chapman said, as was evident by the destruction caused by major systems last year and by other global crises.
He said he would like to see regional governments work closer with national and regional disaster management agencies “to come up with a more concerted effort to respond to the needs of the population”.
Chapman said the response during the simulation exercise has been “great” this week.
He pointed out that while CDEMA and other disaster management agencies had a greater understanding of how to respond to various emergencies, several government ministries in the region including that of agriculture and social services, generally did not have the same level of understanding.
“As we started the simulation, there was this level of uncertainty and discomfort being outside of your normal role. But what we noticed is that over the course of three days, the teams came together to achieve the different tasks that were assigned,” said Chapman.
He said the WFP would now be carefully examining the core areas where it could provide the necessary assistance for Barbados and other regional countries by way of its resources.
WFP is the food assistance branch of the United Nations (UN) and is promoted as the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security.
The organization is able to help in several disasters with its vast logistics and telecommunication network.
“We are trying to transfer some of those capacities from CDEMA to the participating states so that [in] future disasters a direct WFP system let’s say, is not required,” said Chapman.
“So it is these sorts of trainings, technical assistance activities, research and studies and evidence building that can help position the governments and CDEMA to take on some of these roles that WPF would do directly,” he explained.
Chapman said while Barbados had the benefit of not being directly affected by hurricane systems in recent years, it was not time to become complacent.
Programme Manager for Preparedness and Response with CDEMA Joanne Persad said she was satisfied with the partnership that organization shared with the WFP over the years, adding that they would be deepening their relations in coming months.
She said the five-day simulation was very useful, pointing out that “some of the non-traditional disaster management partners” were able to come together to “rehearse a specific type of exercise which is on food security”.
“It has been successful in raising awareness in introducing disaster management to persons who are not acquainted with the terminology on a daily basis. So it is important as a learning opportunity for the region, not just countries, but CDEMA as well,” said Persad.
“The focus is on food security. Food is a priority and getting that safely to an impacted population is what we are working on in this particular exercise,” she said. (MM)