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Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson, has said that the organization is better prepared this hurricane season than last year.
He was speaking at a press conference held recently at ODPEM’s South Camp Road office in Kingston, as the agency kick starts activities for Disaster Preparedness Month under the theme: ‘Disasters are a Constant Reality . Be Prepared for any Eventuality’. The event came on the heels of the start of the hurricane season on June 1.
According to the Director General, there is a better communication strategy in place this year and that several supporting organizations are coming on board. He informed that this year, trunk (hand-held) radios will be utilized as part of the communication network.
“We have decided that we will use trunk radios and the critical responders are coming on the ODPEM net,” he said, adding that, “.the Fire Brigade is coming on this season, the Ministry of Health is currently procuring their radios to come on this season, National Works Agency is strongly leaning towards coming in this season. So a number of key actors will be able to communicate under one net, but we are still looking at facilitating even the householder, who may have a laptop computer,” Mr. Jackson explained.
In addition to the enhanced capability to monitor relief and rescue operations through the same communication tool, Mr. Jackson said the agency is better able to assess damages more quickly through new initiatives with the Ministry of Agriculture. He said in the aftermath of an event, the quicker the damage is assessed, the quicker the response will be.
According to Mr. Jackson, the organization’s level of preparedness in any one year is also informed by the experience gained in the previous year. In this regard, he noted that the 900 shelters across the island and supplies for some 12,000 persons were insufficient, based on the many lessons learnt from last year’s hurricane season.
Among the other deficiencies, he cited the lack of plans by parish councils, the need to improve baseline data on the country’s housing stock, insufficient staff, warehousing problems, the lack of handlers training for community flooding, the need for increased coverage of ODPEM’s repeater site, which currently gives 60 per cent island coverage and the need for more trained teams and radios for schools and parish councils.
Noting the ODPEM’s success in disaster response over the last five years, Mr. Jackson said the agency is now moving from response to mitigation. He noted further that with emphasis on building capacity, the agency has embarked on a comprehensive disaster management plan, to be able to respond to any type of disaster, such as earthquakes and oil spills.
According to the National Meteorological Service, 16 weather systems have been predicted for the hurricane season, with six to nine likely to become hurricanes.