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Disaster management, under the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), is undergoing an important shift from a reactive, crisis response approach to one of proactive risk mitigation.
“This has allowed ODPEM to develop innovative strategies to adapt to climate change, and particularly the more frequent and intense storms associated with it,” researcher and doctoral student from the Department of Geography, Ohio State University in the United States, Kevin Grove, told participants in a JIS Think Tank on Wednesday (October 28).
He said that, because of its community centred approach, ODPEM offers a valuable case study that points to important cultural and political dimensions to climate change adaptation, that are often overlooked by major international organizations involved in climate change policy.
Mr. Grove, whose study examines the cultural and political dimensions of climate change adaptation and disaster management, told the JIS that his research also highlights ODPEM’s disaster management activities, and the potentially unanticipated effects of risk transfer mechanisms, such as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF).
It also shows that there are important governance issues that should be incorporated into the design of current and future risk transfer mechanisms, he added.
The CCRIF is a regional insurance fund for Caribbean governments. It is designed to limit the financial impact of catastrophic hurricanes and earthquakes, by quickly providing financial liquidity when a policy is triggered.
Mr. Grove said that, in the past, disaster management policies emphasized response and, therefore, saw disaster management as crisis management dealing with the items needed to mitigate the effects of a disaster. These items, he said, included food, blankets and ways of ensuring proper coordination among various disaster agencies.
“This remains important, but ODPEM has begun to adopt a new approach, one of disaster mitigation” he said. ODPEM is currently working in communities in St. Thomas, St. Mary, and Kingston and St. Andrew to replace and strengthen the roofs of 1,500 householders, who either lost their roofs, or sustained severe damage, as a result of the passage of Tropical Storm Gustav in August, last year.
The new roofs are reinforced, using proven techniques, including hurricane straps at the proper spacing and locations.
Two good examples of how ODPEM is working to break down these barriers, come from its education and training activities, and some of the partnership-building events associated with the CIDA-funded Building Disaster Resilient Communities Project (BDRCP).
First, ODPEM’s disaster training programmes offered to individual organizations strategically tailor disaster management to each ‘customer’. While there is always some basic information communicated, such as how to define disaster, hazard, risk, vulnerability, and so forth, ODPEM’s trainers make an effort to illustrate, specifically, how disasters impact each agency, company, or organization; how these impacts can be proactively reduced; and why it is important to prepare in advance for these impacts.
Most often, this involves pointing out the economic efficiencies of disaster management over the medium-to-long term, and how disaster management enables agencies to fulfill their mandate to protect the citizenry: in other words, presenting an argument for exactly how disaster management can benefit each organization.
Second, ODPEM’s partnership-building events, associated with BDRC, engage in similar training activities, but often with multiple agencies at once.
“For example, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of one-day conferences with local political leaders, representatives from various agencies, and so forth. These conferences try to build support for incorporating disaster management, by presenting basic information about hazard mitigation,” he explained.
Mr. Grove’s research involves a mix of archival research, focus groups and interviews. Archival research was conducted using government agencies’ online archives, specifically, those of the ministries of Finance, Tourism and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), ODPEM, the National Works Agency (NWA), Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), CDEMA, the World Bank, the United Nations, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
“I conducted four focus groups with community members in the Portland region, with between eight and 23 participants, and one focus group with Local Government and disaster management leaders in the Southern region using participants. I have conducted interviews with 43 government officials in a wide range of agencies and ministries,” he added.
He said he chose not to use questionnaires, because the focus of the of the research is not to draw broad conclusions, but rather to develop detailed account of how people think about disaster management and development, and how they see these issues playing out in their everyday lives.
“Fine-grained level of analysis is usually sacrificed when the emphasis is placed on drawing out broad conclusions. In the place of broad conclusions, my research points to many issues and considerations that are unique to the Jamaican context, and which may turn up differently in other social and environmental settings. In other words, it points to some issues that may require greater attention from future research and policy,” he concluded.

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