New year hopes

To my readers, please accept my best wishes for 2013. I wish you a safe, healthy, successful year, and may all of your wishes and dreams come true.

The prediction of the world’s destruction by the “Doomsday Specialists”, as the Mayan calendar finished its great cycles in December 2012 did not come true.

This marks the third failed prediction in two years regarding the world’s end, with the science driven Mayan calendar prediction sending thousands to Southern Mexico, Northern Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, where officials reported that significant damage was done to many of the Mayan Temples by campers.

Personally, why would you leave your family and friends and travel around the world to see its catastrophic conclusion? How could you record the world’s destruction if the repository of the same data is also lost in the same event?

As a first responder, I often wonder if our words of caution to the driving public ever make an impact. An example of my quandary was another senseless death at 3 a.m. last Sunday morning, one dead and another in hospital. On the penultimate night of 2012, traffic was slowed to a crawl in the north bound lane of the ABC Highway as midnight drag racers, convened for another run to the Emergency Room and the nearest funeral home.

The Christmas holidays were no different, broken cars and many injured people followed into Boxing Day. We need to find a way to reach the drivers using the highways, and regardless of their age try to get them to practise common sense and caution, instead of impatience and reckless arrogance of apparent invincibility once an engine is started.

People are still dying on our highways. New designs are introduced, which in the opinion of traffic planners will assist in managing the congested roads of this island. Four lane highways and more “roundabouts” cannot and will not improve the driving attitudes and behaviours of the drivers themselves.

In my opinion, stringently enforcing our highway codes and legislation will be far more effective than press conferences and media presentations. It is time that this country starts enforcing the traffic laws. Our streets are not drag-strips and our sidewalks are not parking lots.

For Barbados, the 2012 Hurricane Season was uneventful as near misses once more supported the firmly ensconced habit of “last minute preparation” as Tropical Depression #5, was projected to pass close to the north of Barbados. This position further reinforced a long held theory that complacency is very much a part of our behaviour; as it would appear that Barbados still prefers to operate in “scramble mode”.

I still don’t understand why a radio announcer was “disappointed” that the tropical depression did not hit Barbados. While government cannot legislate preparedness on individuals or a community, I would sincerely hope that the pleas for preparedness by the country’s emergency management will be heeded before it is too late.

Friday December 14, 2012 will forever be one of the saddest days in the lives of the parents of 20 children, the families of six adults, the family of the mother of the shooter, the 27th victim, and the shooter himself, the 28th victim, in a Connecticut, United States town.

The questions of why, how and what precipitated the event will be subject of law enforcement, counsellors, psychologists, politicians and the parents of those who escaped for years to come. The answers, which may only focus on the tragedy, will never be sufficient to justify the loss, and questions will only serve to aggravate an already emotionally torn society, tired of the grandstanding of public officials and television consultants.

Barbados cannot continue to ignore the fact that the same sociological and psychological indicators that contributed to the Connecticut tragedy also exist in this society. It is also important that we must realise that while guns can kill, we need to reach the person behind the gun before they make the decision to pull the trigger.

Crop-Over Festival 2013 was launched even as the 2012 Crop-Over was being reviewed and analysed. Once more, the 2012 Grand Kadooment parade was marred by violence as gunfire erupted in Brighton, resulting in the temporary redirecting of the last bands as the area was closed for crime scene evidence collection. No First Responders were injured or killed while managing the culmination of the 2012 parade, and members of the general public also have not been injured or killed as a direct side-effect of the behaviour during Crop-Over, however the question of when will it happen still remains.

My congratulations are extended to the Government, as it has announced that the Safety and Health at Work Act proclamation on January 1, eight years after its passage in Parliament. Why it took eight years to proclaim one of the most important pieces of worker safety legislation, is irrelevant. What must now be realised is that the act’s proclamation must be used as a catalyst to change unsafe workplace behaviours. Training programmes and senior administrative attitudinal changes must now occur if a positive culture of workplace safety and health is to be introduced and practiced.

In November, one of Barbados leading insurance companies took the bold step in anticipation of the government’s January 1, 2013 proclamation, and hosted a Breakfast Occupational Safety and Health Awareness seminar for its clients. The company said that based on the response to the seminar that a more in-depth activity would be presented once the proclamation had occurred.

We presented a four-part series on the future of the District Emergency Organisation. While preparing that series, DEO chair-persons and members continually reminded me that there was an urgent need for the reconciliation of the relevance of the organisation, its purpose, and its overall aims and objectives as a functionary in emergency management.

They noted that while Government needed to admit to their own lack lustre support of the 30 community based preparedness organisations, that the DEOs themselves also needed to admit that in many cases, many of them still had not been able to shed the 1960s image of being a community hurricane response group. It is important to remember that in the haste to either modernise the community preparedness and response structure, or disband the current structure for a new unproven process as it is rumoured in some circles of government, that we do not eliminate one critical resource – and that is the community capability of self-help that exists year round regardless of politics.

Earlier this year, the United Nations in one of its reports on its members’ social and infrastructural development, described Barbados as one of the more developed countries in the region. However if we are to accept the contents of the UN Report as an indication of our growth, that we need to start practising what we are preaching. We need to stop complaining and start complying with our laws instead of encouraging others to make a mockery of law enforcement, while placing the lives of our first responders at risk every day.

Human life cannot be given a dollar value but our contribution to our continued development can be assessed in the economic, physical, psychological and sociological values that define human existence. Barbados as an island is our home, and not our personal indiscriminate playground subject to our unwarranted abuse.

Life is priceless; this island is precious, we must remain aware of how our activities permanently impact the natural environment as we dispose of our waste. We need to treasure human life and live in harmony with each other and not against each other. Let us welcome 2013 with a true respect for the values that has made Barbados great. Let 2013 be the year of positive change for all of our people. I wish you well in the coming year.

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