BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS, Jamaica Observer,
ACTING executive dire ctor of the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) Elizabeth Riley, classifying the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season as “one with a difference”, says the entity is focused on ensuring it can navigate a multi-hazard situation in light of the current novel coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a hurricane season with a difference, because not only are we seeking to address and manage the threats that are associated with not just hurricanes but also with severe weather events, we also are dealing with the reality of a prolonged drought and the additional complexity of COVID-19,” Riley told a virtual press conference yesterday from CDEMA’s base in Barbados.
She said CDEMA has developed a comprehensive operational readiness programme which comprises, among other things, training exercises and scenario planning in preparation for any eventuality.
“Given the roll-out of the various scenarios this year with the drought [and] COVID-19, we have taken a more proactive approach to the operational readiness programme,” Riley said.
She said at the national level participating states have signalled that the COVID-19 outbreak has provided a jump-start of their national preparatory actions for the 2020 hurricane season.
“It should be noted that COVID-19 is impacting the region during the period when many critical elements of this operational readiness programme were scheduled for implementation and as a result, both the coordinating unit and the participating states are in operational mode,” the CDEMA acting director said.
In the meantime, she said the agency has prepared a readiness checklist for its 18 member countries and anticipates having a full picture of the readiness of participating states by the end of June.
CDEMA’s contingency plan has been reviewed and updated, she said. In addition, she said stocks within regional warehouses have been confirmed and training sessions conducted for countries in areas identified as areas of need.
“Training of our deployment teams is underway. We looked at the regional coordination within the context of a second wave of COVID-19, and this is a possibility based on the briefings from our health colleagues and certainly based on the conversation of our states on the opening of borders,” Riley told the press conference on Thursday.
In the meantime, she said CDEMA is in discussion with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
“We have agreed as partners on a policy of do no harm, so our external partners, military and non-military, fully appreciate at this time that we want to ensure that they are taking the necessary measures with respect to ensuring that they are not exposing populations that are to benefit from search support to any additional risk from COVID-19, and similarly we want to ensure that they are also protected from contracting COVID-19,” Riley told the briefing.
In this respect, she said personal protective equipment are being readied for deployment teams .
“We are ensuring that we look at aspects such as insurance coverage for deployment teams, we want to ensure that they are fully covered,” she said.
And noting that deployment teams may face some delays relating to the speed with which they can get into a country in the aftermath of a disaster, she said CDEMA has worked with countries so that they are able to begin their recovery in the aftermath of a disaster as they work to get the teams in based on the various protocols [quarantines, testing ].
“I can speak to the conversations that we have had across our 18 states with our national disaster coordinators and the matter of shelter management for 2020 is being taken very seriously by all of our states. Of course the COVID-19 reality [presents] a situation where there is a reduced number of persons who can be accommodated in established shelters [because of social distancing], so all countries are going through a process where they are looking at the principle of home as shelter,” Riley said.
She said, “Persons are being encouraged to shelter at home once the home facility is safe but also to explore sheltering with family and friends which will alleviate the pressure. Member states, she added, were also exploring additional options for shelter and will not only be identifying new facilities but will also be assessing those facilities for suitability.
“Even when the assessment is completed there are certain requirements we have to examine within shelters themselves and these include the physical readiness of the plant to shelter persons in the COVID-19 context, which includes the availability of water, so apart from the physical components where we have to look at the square footage, we also have to look at shelter management
“Countries are also working on addressing additional training for shelter managers and teams,” she said, adding: “I am satisfied with the level of seriousness with which our states are taking the readiness for this season.”
The Atlantic hurricane season which officially began on June 1 runs until November 30.
Photo: Ms. Elizabeth Riley as Executive Director (Acting)