by Senator Hon. Winston Garraway, Minister of State with responsibility for Disaster Management
Fellow Grenadians, every year, our communities are at risk to the damaging impacts of disasters caused by hurricanes and floods.
The impacts of these disasters on our people, our economy, our infrastructure and the environment remind us of the need to prepare well so that we can improve our resilience to disasters when they occur.
1 June marks the start of the hurricane season, which runs until 30 November. This year the predictions suggest that we are in for an above-average 2020 Season. There are 16 named storms; 8 of which are expected to reach hurricane strength; and 4 expected to develop into major hurricanes.
There is no room for complacency. As we approach the start of this hurricane season, we must operate on improved levels of preparedness. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that we must incorporate new and improved responses to risks mitigation that enhance existing arrangements in our homes, in our communities, among businesses, the non-profit sector and within government.
This period requires disaster and emergency managers to be innovative and resourceful. This is a dynamic situation and our response must be dynamic as well. Emergency managers including government officials, private sector authorities, and nonprofit organisations are encouraged to analyse their disaster management strategies to ensure that it reflects hurricane plus Covid-19 scenarios. This approach is critical because it presents an opportunity for developing complementary instead of separate strategies.
This new strategy should also look at the capacity challenges with the response systems. We are cognizant of the fact that Covid-19 has placed unique challenges on disaster management, health, security and other response systems and that the advent of a hurricane will exacerbate those challenges.
Sheltering is an anticipated challenge as far as emergency preparedness during the time of a pandemic. Traditional determinations of when to issue evacuation warnings need to be reassessed in light of Covid-19 and may result in changes to the protocol of when to evacuate or shelter in place. Evacuation risks will have to be balanced against the risk of increasing virus transmission, which could have longer-term effects than the hurricane itself.
The National Disaster Management Agency (NaDMA) is spearheading work on the new protocols for sheltering, taking into account the risks associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. The shelter inspection team is just about wrapping up the inspection of shelters. Upon completion, the 2020 list will be published.
Household stocking of supplies will be more critical than normal to get through this hurricane season. Families have been stockpiling food and supplies in response to Covid-19. Some of these stocks will be useful throughout the hurricane season. However, the coronavirus outbreak has also led to unique and increased need for items such as disinfectants, soap, hand sanitisers and masks. I urge everyone to remember these different needs as part of their hurricane planning.
We need to prepare diligently for this season. It is important that every family has an emergency plan, every family create or update their emergency kit, secure important documents and valuables in safe waterproof containers and locations, keep medicine in stock, have cash on hand and take the necessary measures to secure their home and surroundings.
Preparedness also involves ensuring that our communities are ready. A prepared community is a more resilient community, ensuring a quick and efficient path to recovery in the event of a disaster. Equally important, businesses should be prepared with emergency plans and business continuity plans to facilitate a more rapid return to normalcy in the event of an impact.
Being prepared means that you listen to the official source for disaster-related information, the National Disaster Management Agency. At NaDMA, an activated emergency operations centre is already enhanced to accommodate the Covid-19 safety protocol. Simulations exercises in emergency communication and early warning systems have been conducted. The national hurricane plan is being revised along with emergency operations procedures. Equipment testing and servicing have already commenced. Contact listing and information sharing protocol have been revisited.
In our preparedness strategy, we must recognise that there are certain populations and communities that need to be prioritised, including persons with disabilities and others who may not be able to respond adequately to threats or impact of disaster during the hurricane season and may require additional support.
In closing, I want to salute our volunteers who continue to give their unwavering support to the Agency to ensure that the disaster management mechanism functions well. We are proud of the work you do and I thank you for your service. Let us continue to work together to build a stronger more resilient Grenada. Together we can do it. We can make a difference – so let’s do it!