JIS News

As weather forecasters predict an active 2006 hurricane season, which begins on June 1, Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Dr. Barbara Carby has said that the agency would be re-examining its listing of designated emergency shelters, with a view to expanding the number.
This decision is taken against the background of the findings of a comprehensive survey done by the Social Development Commission (SDC), which details the existing state of hundreds of community facilities located across the island.
Speaking to JIS News today (March 2), following a meeting at the ODPEM’s Camp Road offices, where SDC officials presented the findings of the survey titled, ‘Inventory of Community Infrastructure’ to several emergency planning stakeholders, Dr. Carby said: “We (ODPEM) are going to have to discuss it further, but I would imagine that our immediate approach would be to see whether our shelter listing can be augmented based on the information, to include more shelters”.
Based on the SDC report, she said that ODPEM would utilise the information to carry out “a more detailed site specific assessment” at identified community facilities to see their fitness as shelters.
The Director General indicated that presently, there are between 800 and 900 emergency shelters, and the assessment would be done before the start of the hurricane season.
In the meantime, Director of Research at the SDC, Juanita Reid told JIS News that the survey was commissioned by the government, with funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), to develop a fuller understanding of the existing infrastructure within communities.
“The SDC undertook this survey at the request of government because of the use of schools as shelters .so they (government) asked us to do a survey in our communities to see what (existing) infrastructure could help,” she said.
The survey was done in all parishes of Jamaica during June and November of last year. According to the report, a total of 1,118 facilities were surveyed. The range of facilities included churches/church halls, town halls and community centres.
Schools, court houses, health centres, and training/vocational centres were also surveyed, particularly where these were the only available facilities in the community that are easily accessible and have been used as emergency shelters.
Facilities designated as emergency shelters by ODPEM were largely not surveyed as the focus was on existing community centres and other facilities which were previously used for emergency shelters, and facilities that have potential use as shelters.
Miss Reid pointed out that more than 100 SDC officers participated in the field survey, which was primarily done through the use of a questionnaire designed to capture relevant information, such as the state of the facility, its sanitation and water accessibility, and its vulnerability to natural disaster elements, such as landslides, flooding, and high winds.
She said the SDC collected information from some 337 communities across the country to do its report.
The ultimate goal of the survey, the SDC Director noted, “is to feed the information to various stakeholders and through ODPEM, that people can see first of all, what exists and then to have dialogue in terms of how this data can be used in the development of shelters in the communities”.
The findings of the SDC-commissioned survey, which comprehensively documents community facilities in districts and parishes across the island, and the soundness of their infrastructure, is intended to be mounted on the SDC’s website.
“Ultimately, the information will be posted on our website and is intended to educate the public,” Miss Reid said, pointing out that the database should be available in time for the hurricane season at www.sdc.gov.jm.
She noted that the information is currently being used by ODPEM, parish councils and various stakeholders to pursue advanced emergency plans.
Miss Reid pointed out that the survey was presented to Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in December.