Last week’s Barbados TODAY lead story highlighting boats being damaged or sunk in the Oistins area, because of rough seas, due to the passing of Tropical Storm Isaac, has once again presented a situation which in my opinion, could have been avoided.
In this case, even though the Meteorological services had kept the public informed on the status of Tropical Storm Isaac, the owners of the damaged vessels, stated that they had not received any warning or advisory notice on the possible adverse sea conditions that occurred.
Irate boat owners lamented that if there had been some kind of advisory, or cautionary notice issued by the authorities regarding the adverse sea conditions, the damages incurred might have been avoided.
It is important to note that cautionary notices had been issued by the Barbados Weather Service, and boaters were advised that adverse sea conditions could have been expected as a result of Isaac. However, it would appear that once more, complacency, followed by finger pointing, contributed to the events which unfolded at Oistins last week.
The Barbados Weather Service must be commended on being able to provide accurate and up to date information on all meteorological conditions that may affect the island. However, according to one marine engineer, whether or not the weather service issues any notice, it is still incumbent upon boat owners to remain vigilant during the Hurricane Season.
One of the tenants of emergency management is to always plan for any, and all eventualities. In an environment such as the Caribbean where weather hazards occur every year, ongoing consideration should be given as to how the public will be kept informed of any scenario, regardless of whether or not imminent danger can be anticipated.
However, when an active system becomes present in the immediate area, regardless of the threat level, it is being suggested by some very irate boat owners, that the authorities should also consider issuing regular preparedness and prevention public information bulletins as a matter of priority. This process, in the opinion of the boat owners, would contribute to possibly mitigating unexpected occurrences such as what happened at Oistins last week.
Within the past three months, 10 weather systems have been tracked across the Caribbean, with one passing over the island. However, unless the weather system poses a direct threat to Barbados, not much preventive information is issued, and therefore the public relies on the weather service for information on rain and adverse sea conditions.
This apparent lack of foresightedness on the part of the authorities, in the opinion of one boat owner whose vessel was sunk, would have gone a long way in alerting him to the possible adverse sea conditions; which he admitted in the news story that he was not even aware of. Another boat owner stated that they might have been able to prevent the damages if they had only known about the possible rough seas.
Based on the opinions of the boat owners, I asked a marine engineer the following; what happens when there is no direct threat from a weather system, but its effect on the sea remains a concern to boat owners? The engineer said that in the collective opinion of varying boating enthusiasts, unless a specific warning is issued by the weather service or the fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, regarding adverse sea conditions, it is the responsibility of all boat owners to be vigilant at all times.
He added that according to boat owners, the Department of Emergency Management does not have a specific procedure for this type of scenario, which would be of benefit to boat owners, and therefore, they may turn to the Fisheries Division for support for this type of situation.
What happens if adverse sea conditions are expected, but the relevant departments still follow a regular 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule? How will boat owners be able to access the required resources if the staff of the relevant departments have all left for the day, as no national emergency declaration has been issued?
The marine engineer said in a case like this, it would be left up to the owners themselves to resolve their needs. A situation, which the engineer stated, was just another example of lack of foresight by the authorities, in areas where some of them are heavily dependent on equipment needed to remove vessels from the sea in emergency conditions.
Comments were also made regarding the lack of safe harbours for boats, and the seemingly unused space of the inner basin of the Careenage. An area, which another owner said was extremely difficult to access, as there seemed to be some reluctance on the part of the authorities, to implement a plan that would include the frequent raising of the bridge to facilitate the safe mooring of some vessels. One owner said that there seemed to be no clear policy on the overall use of the inner basin during marine emergencies.
On varying occasions, I have looked at other jurisdictions with similar hazards and how they manage emergency public information distribution. In the light of the recent criticisms from boat owners on how an early warning might have assisted them in averting their recent misfortunes.
One such jurisdiction I have been observing is the City of Naples in Florida. This jurisdiction, like many other Caribbean countries, is constantly being placed on alert for weather systems. In this regard, I would like to share with you a recent Hurricane Preparedness press release, which was issued prior to Tropical Storm passing Southwest Florida.
I have asked my editor to share the press release with you, as an example of how forward planning can work when managing emergency public information. One of the interesting services offered by the City of Naples which I examined is a public information programme, which allows city residents to sign up for immediate notification through a combination of either, phone (Cellular and landline), email, or text messaging, on any pending weather system or other emergency situations.
An examination of the DEM and the CDEMA websites suggests that this service does not currently exist here in any form. However, I am suggesting that the directors of both organisations, consider an adaptation of the service. An implementation, designed for Barbados and the region, might further enhance their ability to notify the public on a regular basis, even when the offices have closed for the day.
A concept such as this, if implemented, will go a long way in practicing the concept of foresightedness. There is no reason to “re-invent the wheel” if one already exists that works and can further the aims and objectives as outlined on their websites.