Emergency Response System Stood Up Well – Saunders


The country’s emergency response system stood up to the onslaught of Hurricane Ivan, with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) able to maintain islandwide communication and provide relief assistance where needed.
Deputy Director General of the ODPEM, Paul Saunders, told JIS News, that the agency maintained cellular and landline communication throughout the duration of the hurricane and because there were no major road blockages in Kingston, relief teams where able to move about and respond to emergency needs.
“The parish mechanisms were well prepared and came through (well). Right now, we are seeing the effects of that. I would say that the public awareness made a significant difference because for the first time in our history, we had persons going into shelters hours before the blow as a precautionary measure”, he said.
On Thursday (September 9), the OPDEM was able to evacuate flood prone communities in Portmore and Port Royal and some coastal areas. “That went smoothly and persons went without much fuss and that said a lot about the nation’s preparedness and how seriously the country took Ivan,” he said.
He informed JIS News, that teams were now carrying out assessments to determine the level of damage, but preliminary reports indicate that roads, agricultural lands, personal property including houses, have suffered the most damage so far. “But this is just in the eastern section as the western section is still experiencing rainfall”, he noted.
Meanwhile, Acting Deputy Director General of the ODPEM, Ronald Jackson, told JIS News that a staff of about 65 persons had been working since Wednesday (September 8) to provide relief service. The team comprises technical persons from the Ministry of Health, Fire Service, Police, Jamaica Public Service Company among others, and regional coordinators serving the southern, eastern, western and northern sections of the island.
“We responded to evacuation requests before, during and in some cases after the impact, dealing with search and rescue and coordinating requests for support. Currently, there is a search and rescue mission for landslides reported in areas of upper St. Andrew and dealing with the dispatch of relief supplies for shelters, and generally providing information to the public,” he said.
He said the agency was also communicating with the international community to “establish needs coming out of the situation and to ensure that they would be able to help us meet those needs in short order”. Mr. Jackson told JIS News that there were about 12,000 to 13,000 persons who had sought shelter, and that ODPEM was seeking to bring that number down starting today.
He said that already, a public service announcement has been sent out to urge persons to return home if their situation was safe and ODPEM has started to transport persons back to Portmore and sections of Kingston. Persons have already left shelters in northern St. Mary.
Some 900 primary schools and community centres across the island were designated as shelters but only about 285 were utilised. Most of the shelter seekers were from St. James, St. Mary, St. Thomas and Kingston. Over 1000 persons were reported in shelters in Manchester.

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