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Long-term planning, infrastructural investments and individual responsibility are key to how we prepare for major disaster events, says Director of the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre (DRRC) at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Barbara Carby.

Speaking at a virtual town hall meeting held by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development on May 28, Dr. Carby underscored the importance of a multisectoral, collaborative approach to disaster preparedness.

“To be ready for a category 5 event, this preparation has to start long before. To be able to survive that kind of event or a magnitude seven or eight earthquake, it goes back to how your infrastructure was designed and constructed. This is where your Building Codes and Standards are very important,” she emphasised.

“The enforcement of these Standards will, in the long run, allow you to better manage and better survive these high-end events, but that is one aspect of it. We also have to think about other aspects of our infrastructure like our hospitals, for example. If there is a mass casualty event, how well can they cope?” Dr. Carby asked.

She urged developers and anyone considering the construction of any type of building to first seek not just the approval of the Municipal Corporation for the area, but also to tap into it as a source of technical advice.

Dr. Carby also stressed the importance of long-term investment in risk reduction. “For every dollar that is invested in risk reduction, you are going to save maybe $5 or $10 in damage down the road. You cannot over invest in risk reduction. Mitigation, risk reduction and preparedness are key elements in deciding how the country will survive,” she added.

On the matter of preparedness, Acting Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Richard Thompson, pointed out that training has been ongoing despite format changes due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Acting Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Richard Thompson, addresses a virtual town hall meeting, staged by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, on May 28. The ODPEM conducts regular training of community emergency response teams (CERT) despite the coronovisrus’ impact on training format.​

 

“Training forms a key part of the overall disaster preparedness agenda. It is critical that community engagement is a part of the process and that community personnel are trained. We have community emergency response teams (CERTs) that are constantly trained and they are volunteer groups that are always ready to form part of the [disaster response] process,” Mr. Thompson noted.

“We constantly have training from the ODPEM and the Municipal Corporation is a critical part of that process and so is the Social Development Commission. It is a multisectoral approach that we use to bring the overall training mechanism together,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Carby advises that another part of preparation is conducting frequent drills, so that “we are all fully aware of what to do in a disaster, particularly earthquakes”.

“If we do regular drills at schools, business places and at home, then you actually get into the habit of doing the correct thing to protect yourself when the shaking starts. Without that practice and without that mindset, people are likely to panic as we have seen in the past. I would say that at least once a semester, every educational institution should run a drill, and at home you drill all the time, and the important thing is drill in the dark as well,” she advised.

For his part, Director of the Meteorological Service Division, Evan Thompson, suggested that drills for hurricane preparedness be explored as well.

Director of the Meteorological Service Division, Evan Thompson, speaks at a virtual town hall meeting, held by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, on May 28.

 

“There is a part of our population that does not know anything about real hurricane activity because the last time we had anything significant was 2007 when we had Hurricane Dean. We need to remind people of what it (hurricane threat) really means, because it involves not only strong winds. It is also torrential rainfall; it’s also lightning and thunder quite often; and it’s also storm surge flooding,” he said.

“You also have landslides and inland flooding. All those are different hazards that you will experience from a hurricane, so you have to be aware of all the hazards,” Mr. Thompson added.

June is observed nationally as Disaster Preparedness Month and also marks the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

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