Panel Offers Valid Suggestions
Panel speakers at the recent Hurricane Ivan symposium sought a dedicated home for the Cayman Islands Weather Service as a priority so that future emergency operations are not jeopardised as they were during the 2004 storm.
Moderator Loxley Banks got the proceedings going with an overview of hurricane preparedness protocol that was listed out on a mere two sheets of paper in the early days when Jamaica provided weather information for the Cayman Islands.
Even during Hurricane Gilbert, there were only a few satellite systems up and running but no live television. Now the manual is a comprehensive document and the Cayman Islands generates its own real-time data continuously, including Doppler radar readings and lightning strike information, symposium participants heard.
Retired Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks credited former Fire Chief Kirkland Nixon for his persistence and drive in moving the Cayman Islands along in improving disaster preparedness. He also highlighted Public Works pre-Ivan shuttering and checking shelters to ensure pumps were ready to take over water supply when piped water shut down which made for smoother shelter operations during and after Ivan.
Meanwhile, Water Authority Director Gelia Frederick-van Genderen explained that since Grand Cayman's water supply line hugs the coast, it needs to be shut down when massive storms move in from the sea. Water suppliers had also learnt many lessons from the Ivan experience, she noted.
Former Director General of CI National Weather Service Fred Sambula commented that once Jamaica was hit by Ivan, the supply of meteorological information to the Cayman Islands dried out. This forced the country to seek information from the World Meteorological Organisation instead. The only link then was to use the one satellite telephone available then and this experience had spurred improvements to weather prediction equipment. At the same time the recent introduction of the Doppler radar has meant that the Cayman Islands is now a source of information for its neighbours.
Ivan was a wake-up call, Mr. Sambula cautioned, but it is still possible for the Cayman Islands to experience worse. So it is vital to keep preparations current and keep improving them, he emphasised.
Former Director of Children and Family Services Deanna Look Loy explained how during Ivan, shelters had become the lifeline for hundreds of people, and also significantly contributed to the Cayman Islands' low death toll. Yet Mrs. Look Loy noted that a last minute influx of people, after shelters closed, had caused a severe problem for shelter management. Also, the last shelter closed in December 2004, revealing how invaluable the service was during and after the hurricane.
She explained that shelter seekers work while there to keep the premises clean and to cook food. The key to the smooth running of the shelters was also trained shelter staff, often working better with minimal interference, she added.
Former Cabinet Secretary Orrett Connor referred to the progress achieved in improved forecasting and analysis capabilities including the Doppler radar station, which also involved overseas funding and technical assistance. He was disappointed at the lack of progress towards a dedicated disaster fund, and called for building the fund now that Government's finances were improving. It is better to be self-reliant especially when it is difficult for the Cayman Islands to get overseas funding, he remarked.
In the aftermath, it was clear that regardless of competing financial and humanitarian interests, one cannot be ignored for the other, added Mr. Connor, who also served as Recovery Manager, dealing with the government contracted company MC Restoration. The vulnerable need to be protected as much as the Cayman Islands economic base, he added. It was also a sound decision to get the country- level disaster insurance, CCRIF.
He further urged the creation of an environment in which government agencies were not pitted against each other in competition but worked together on the same playing field.
Members of the panel agreed that Ivan had also brought into sharp focus the evacuation of a large number of people. The national carrier is an invaluable asset in this regard, he said. The decision when to start evacuating people is an important one, he underscored.
Going forward: Suggestions from the panel included:
- A purpose built facility for the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) to enhance disaster preparedness.
- While Cayman does have a good building code, make hurricane shutters and/or hurricane resistant glass doors and windows a requirement, which is currently absent.
- Increase shelter capacity.
- Going forward, ensure residences are elevated so that at least 80% of residents can stay in their own homes. Incentivise people to retrofit existing buildings.
- To ensure communications are up and running early during the aftermath and that fuel companies have in place more responsive action plans.
- To ensure that families are better prepared.
- To encourage people to be as self-reliant and in as many areas as possible.
- To encourage more Caymanians to be Shelter Wardens, after going through all the necessary training.
- With better weather warnings now possible including from 400 miles away, encourage people to tune in to local weather bulletins before, during and after storms.
- With shortened periods for warnings and watches now, get people to prepare early when a storm is approaching.
For further information contact: Bina Mani