Special guidelines for shelters and emergency operations are being developed by the Government as it prepares for the upcoming hurricane season while concurrently managing the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This was disclosed by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, who said the guidelines are being finalised by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the Ministry of Health and Wellness and will be provided to all relevant entities.
“I am directing all entities to ensure their continued heightened readiness and preparedness actions, following the guidance of the Ministry of Health and Wellness and ODPEM,” he said during a virtual meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council on Wednesday (May 27).
Mr. Holness, who is Chair of the Council, said he has mandated that the re-inspection of shelters be accelerated by Municipal Corporations and other response actors at the local level, given the implications of the health crisis during the hurricane season.
“Shelter arrangements are of particular importance to the Government, given the COVID-19 measures of social distancing and the potential for the spread of the virus and the impact on the most vulnerable in society,” he noted.
“These would include ensuring that these shelters have isolation areas, so that if… you suspect or confirm that [a user of] the shelter has COVID-19 and they are not able to be taken to a health facility, then at least you would have the provision locally within the facility for isolation,” he said.
The Prime Minister said Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Desmond McKenzie, has been leading the reinspection process “and is spending quite a bit of time and effort to ensure that our shelters are up-to-date, including regular sanitisation of the shelters and ensuring that they are properly equipped”.
He argued that “the stress that COVID-19 has already placed on our national disaster preparedness infrastructure and our economy” poses an added challenge that shelter managers will need to be prepared for going into the hurricane season.
“When it comes now to having hurricanes and having to deal with a pandemic such as COVID at the same time, then it complicates the issues, so we have to be properly prepared for that. I believe that we have to do far more training and education of our shelter managers, so that they understand how to cope with treating with persons coming in during a hurricane, and at the same time, maintaining the various orders and requirements under the pandemic,” he added.
The Prime Minister noted that ODPEM, which has national responsibility for disaster response must ensure that adequate relief resources are in place to respond to any eventuality and that arrangements are made to procure additional supplies.
He stressed that protecting the nation’s most vulnerable remains the priority, and the Ministry of Local Government, which has portfolio responsibility for disaster risk management “must continue to engage and ensure that all necessary measures are taken”.
He advised that “all committees of the municipal corporations and the parish disaster committees that were already activated and engaged in the COVID-19 response need to remain on high alert for the hurricane season”, which, he noted, is likely to be above normal based on the forecasts.
The National Hurricane Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting 13 to 19 named storms, of which six to 10 could become hurricanes.
The forecast includes three to six major hurricanes (of category 3 or higher). There have already been two named storms before the June 1 official start of the season.