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Hurricane Preparedness in the Midst of a Pandemic
  • POST ON 31 Jul 2020

In a presentation titled: “Hurricane Preparedness in the Midst of a Pandemic”, a team from the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) highlighted the need to prepare homes, businesses and selves especially while living in a “multi-hazard environment” such as the BVI. 

To that end, Planning and Preparedness Manager Ms. Sheniah Armstrong explained that 2020 is an “above normal” hurricane season, the BVI is a seismically active zone, and is affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Armstrong was joined by co-facilitator Deputy Director Dr. Evangeline Innis during Tuesday’s webinar. 

Know Your Terms 

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. The preparedness manager emphasised the need to “know your terms” and went on to elaborate on key terminologies used during the season. A hurricane warning means that tropical storm or hurricane conditions are expected in an area within 36 hours and persons should prepare for impact. A hurricane watch means that tropical storm or hurricane conditions may affect an area within 48 hours and persons should prepare for possible impact.

A tropical alert happens when a tropical storm is expected to form in a monitored area. A tropical disturbance has winds that are weak and disorganised; while a tropical depression has somewhat organised winds less than 39mph. A tropical storm has some cyclonic organisation and winds between 39 and 74mph while a hurricane has an organised ‘eye’ and winds over 75mph. 

Standard Preparedness Activities

Ms. Armstrong identified a number of standard preparedness activities which include risk identification, creating disaster, continuity and evacuation plans, safeguarding documents and  purchasing supplies. She said that persons should first identify any risks for their property and put plans in place to lessen any potential damage; create disaster/ continuity plans; plan for an evacuation by knowing the evacuation routes and location of shelters and be sure to plan for those with a disability; prepare their home and business by reviewing and safeguarding important documents and purchasing food and emergency supplies; and also ‘be neighbourly” by assisting those in need. 

Ten Steps to Be Ready

Ms. Armstrong also outlined a ten step guide to help businesses get ready for a storm. These steps include preparing a plan and practicing it; backing up data; safeguarding and protecting vulnerable employees; operating remotely; informing staff, clients, and stakeholders; pre-identifying continuity and recovery needs; staying informed and building communication redundancies; preparing property by updating insurance policies; implementing an effective communications strategy; and expecting the unexpected. 

Lessons from the Past 

The presentation then highlighted a few lessons from the Territory’s recent past, including the need to have satellite warehouses. Dr. Innis said the purpose of the warehouses are to ensure access to equipment and basic supplies needed directly after impact for quick relief and stabilisation. Presently the main warehouse is located in Fish Bay with a view to establish six more in other districts. 

Ms. Armstrong said that they also looked at building the Territory’s communication capacity by establishing satellite emergency operating centres or EOCs. The first satellite EOC was commissioned on July 27 at the East End/Long Look Fire Station, and four others will be commissioned over the coming months. The satellite EOCs will be outfitted with hazard monitoring equipment and backup communications like VHF radios, satellite phones and laptop computers, and will be managed by incident command personnel. 

Dr. Innis highlighted the establishment of CERTs (Community Emergency Response Teams) that will provide support to the satellite EOCs. The teams comprise a total of 361 volunteers.  To this end, she said, “One of the things that works very well in the BVI community is the spirit of volunteerism and the need to be a part of the solution”. The deputy director also encouraged more persons to join a CERT in their area. Both teenagers and adults can volunteer. 

Emergency Shelter Programme

Dr. Innis explained, “The shelter management programme is another way for us to provide a space if persons’ homes are compromised or they think the facility they reside in is not safe.” She said that the DDM has spent much time planning for this year’s season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and has purchased Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’s), established physical distancing protocols, screening and the segmentation of space within shelters. 

SMART Community

Ms. Armstrong said that the BVI is moving towards establishing a SMART Community. “One of the key tenets of having a SMART Community are businesses with proven continuity and recovery programmes,” she said, adding, “It’s not just about [writing a plan], but about planning and practicing the plan, ensuring that [team members] know their responsibilities.” Ms. Armstrong also described the main elements of a disaster plan which includes assigning a focal point/ contact person, deciding on procedures to review the plan and consulting the DDM in developing and reviewing the plan. 

Kareem-Nelson Hull, Marketing Manager at BVI Finance thanked the DDM team for their timely presentation and wrapped up by encouraging everyone to get prepared.