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The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), on Tuesday (Oct. 28), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with the Jamaica Red Cross Society, to undertake the management of priority emergency shelters islandwide.
Director General of ODPEM, Ronald Jackson, said the signing, which took place at the agency’s headquarters in Kingston, represents the culmination of year-long consultations with the Red Cross, “looking at the whole business of emergency sheltering, post-impact. We have long had reports of the challenges faced with managing persons who are displaced, having to attend emergency shelters.”
Mr. Jackson said some of the challenges identified, stemmed from an inability to provide the human resources to support these facilities, and other resources required for emergency sheltering.
“We know that we have over 900 shelters across the island, most of which are schools. And when we looked back at the data that existed for past events, we realised that there was a concentration of the shelter population within a smaller number, somewhere in the region of just over 200,” he pointed out.
The Director General further explained that these facilities were examined and prioritised, according to the most used locations. “Our partners, the Jamaica Red Cross, and ourselves, have worked for many years in the shelter management processes, and (they) approached us with a proposal to look at how they could help us improve the services within the shelters. It is something that we found to be very favourable,” he informed.
He said the MoU, which will last for three years, essentially deals with the activation of the emergency facilities, and storage of some of the items that will be needed in the shelters, such as cots, blankets, and cooking utensils. It will also look at how best resources can be deployed to and retrieved from the shelters.
“It (MoU) will also look at the registration of persons who go into the shelters, that’s another area we have to improve on. And we have looked at some protocols, that will see us improving collecting information on persons in the shelters, especially… children, and those that may be in need of special care and attention,” Mr. Jackson advised.
The Director General also pointed out that, as part of the MoU, the staffing within the emergency shelters will be improved. “Often times, it is one person, and a lot of the shelter managers who do turn up, are those Red Cross volunteers who have been trained… (although) there are others. But 70 (or) 80 per cent of the time, they are the Red Cross volunteers.” As such, he said persons from various communities will be trained by ODPEM and the Jamaica Red Cross.
Mr. Jackson informed that the overall management of the shelters will be jointly undertaken, but that on-the-ground management will be conducted through the Red Cross.
“We will provide all the necessary support, whatever the resources are, to ensure that they can deliver on the commitment to manage these shelters. In the first roll out, we may not meet the expected targets,” he outlined, adding that where resources are provided, improvements will be effected.
Mr. Jackson further pointed out that there were some basic resources that were lacking in some of these facilities, which would also be addressed. “When you look at the fact that we use schools, already, the sanitary facilities are not necessarily adequate. And so, one of the things we are looking at, is what other supporting sanitary facilities, we can bring to these priority shelters. We are looking into the business of what we call quick erect shelter facilities to depopulate the schools, to move them into another facility, which we can then manage, (thereby) allowing the schools to go back into full use. These are areas we are going to be building on in the coming year, and years,” Mr. Jackson explained.
“So first, we are trying to now get the management team together, to look at all the aspects of sheltering; the Red Cross has a very good psycho-social programme. We have to look at the whole business of recreation for persons who are in the facilities, children, (the) special needs population, as well as the general attention to feeding and health care, which the Ministry of Health will provide. The Red Cross is a partner that has within its ranks, personnel that have these skill sets, that can administer first aid, that can do some of the basic upfront assessment and support for the persons who are displaced,” he added.
The Director General said it was hoped that the MoU would be operationalised in the 2009 hurricane season, “and not just for hurricanes, but any other adverse events.”
Director General of the Jamaica Red Cross, Yvonne Clarke, said the need to make a contribution arose from concerns raised regarding the state and level of readiness of the shelters to receive persons who are affected and traumatised by disasters. “We thought that we could make a contribution towards mobilising persons, and towards the training of persons to manage these shelters,” she stated.
“Because of the nature of the Red Cross, which is concerned about humanity and human suffering, we are able to tap into volunteers, not only who are members of the Red Cross, but who belong to other organisations and other service clubs. And it is our intention to try and train these persons as well as to look at the suitability of shelters, .. to ensure that they have the basic items which will make persons less reluctant to stay in danger zones, and more willing to go to the shelters,” she said.