- The National Emergency Response Geographic Information Systems Team (NERGIST) was officially launched on June 19.
- The team of volunteers provides support to the ODPEM in damage assessment and analysis prior to and post meteorological and geological events.
- The team will conduct coordinated, comprehensive and efficient disaster assessment exercises which will provide accurate geospatial data to decision makers.
As part of the government’s coordinated effort to enhance emergency planning and strengthen the nation’s overall level of preparedness, the National Emergency Response Geographic Information Systems Team (NERGIST) was officially launched on June 19 at the Mona Visitors’ Lodge & Conference Centre at the University of the West Indies, Mona with a graduation exercise for 15 of its volunteers.
NERGIST was established through the collaborative efforts of the National Disaster Committee/Damage Assessment subcommittee; the National Spatial Data Management Division (NSDMD) of the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, the Land information Council of Jamaica (LICJ) and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).
The team of volunteers, which comprises professionals from several government agencies and private sector organizations, provides support to the ODPEM in damage assessment and analysis prior to and post meteorological and geological events.
Among other areas, the team will conduct coordinated, comprehensive and efficient disaster assessment exercises which will provide accurate geospatial data to decision makers in a timely manner as well as a scientific framework to properly cost reconstruction and recovery exercises. As such, the volunteers were provided with additional training undertaken by the NSDMD/LICJ and ODPEM, which equipped them with the processes and techniques necessary to perform damage assessment tasks. These volunteers are now NERGIST certified professionals.
The information generated from these assessments has assisted in the preparation of final reports on Socio-economic and Environmental Disasters. Several Hazard Maps have also been developed using the GIS data gathered by NERGIST. These maps have been compiled for stakeholders to ensure that national and local risk assessment data are available.
Delivering the address at the launch and graduation exercise on behalf of the Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Hon. Luther Buchanan, noted that as one of several Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Jamaica faces unique challenges due to its size and geographical location, foremost among them, the island’s vulnerability to natural disasters.
Minister Buchanan stated that the threat of climate change is likely to increase our susceptibility to natural hazards and adverse weather conditions such as drought and hurricanes and as such, it is critical that we ensure that we are in a state of preparedness in advance of a crisis.
‘A key disaster management and risk reduction strategy involves operational coordination in crisis situations. This involves assessing situations and needs; agreeing to common priorities; developing common strategies to address issues and to monitor the progress of the recovery process. Without an inter-agency approach, this would not be possible”.
The Minister noted that with representation comprising several government ministries and agencies, the private sector and academia, NERGIST truly represents the concept of joined-up government and is a fine example of partnerships among stakeholders.
Principal Director in the National Spatial Data Management Division, Mr. Rohan Richards, who chaired the event, outlined the importance of NERGIST. “Our responses to the impacts of natural hazards must be supported by the presence of accurate data especially data that is spatially referenced. This will help us to define the types of resources that must be allocated or mitigative actions that should be taken” he said.
The NERGIST Operating Centre is activated within 24 hours after a disaster event and begins spatial data collection within 48 hours to facilitate the deployment of relief to affected areas in the shortest possible time. The Centre is equipped with 10 computers, and GIS software to support this operation.
There are also plans retrofit the lab with a power generator and water tank in order to support the operations. Damage assessment and data collection will be done using GIS grade, GPS receivers and digital cameras.
Further capacity building exercises will be conducted by the NSDMD in collaboration with ODPEM including training for volunteers to assess damage caused by hazards; certification in Initial Damage Assessment; advanced GIS and GNSS/GPS training, flood modelling and equipping persons at the community level to capture initial damage assessment data, among others.