JIS News

Several shelters across the island will be designated as priority shelters by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), to ensure the safety and protection of children in an emergency.
Regional Coordinator at the ODPEM, Sophia Mitchell, made the announcement on Monday (August 18), at a community forum held at the Old Harbour Bay Primary School in St. Catherine.
The meeting was held to update residents on disaster preparedness plans for the community. It was organised by the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), in collaboration with the ODPEM and the Old Harbour Bay Community Development Association.
“For this upcoming season we have come up with a plan, where we are looking at what we call priority shelters,” Miss Mitchell said, stating that the Old Harbour High School in St. Catherine, has been designated a priority shelter in the event of a hurricane.
Miss Mitchell, who was guest speaker at the event, said the initiative was part of a plan by the ODPEM, to create a more friendly and safe environment for children during a disaster. She explained that the priority shelters would be equipped with toys, books, and hygiene kits for children of different age groups less than five years.
“We recognise that children under five are most vulnerable in an emergency and therefore, from the ODPEM stand point, we will be making some effort,” she said.
The Regional Coordinator said that with the advent of the Child Care and Protection Act of 2004, shelters would be monitored by officials from the Ministry of Health to ensure the protection and safety of children.
“When they do their assessment, and based on that assessment come to a conclusion that some corrective measures need to be done, then they will act on it. Because the minute you enter a shelter, you become a ward of the state,” Miss Mitchell pointed out, noting that children in shelters could be exposed to physical abuse and sexual violence.
In her presentation, Miss Mitchell also reminded the residents that shelters should be regarded as a temporary housing facility.
“A shelter is the last resort. You first stay with friends and relatives. When you have no friends and relatives, then you come to the shelter,” she emphasised.
Other speakers were Sergeant Howard Perry, Old Harbour Bay Police Station; Environmentalist, Peter Espeut and Senior Public Health Inspector, St. Catherine, Simeon Bromfield. Also attending the meeting were the Chairperson, Old Harbour Bay Community Development Association, Murelda Folkes and Regional Manager for the Regional Services Department at the JIS, Shelly-Ann Harris.