What if, Bim?

The New Year started with hopes of relief from the world’s financial crisis and an end to the violence that continues to plague cities in almost every country. However, disaster scenarios and gun violence continued to be recorded worldwide.

In the past three days, North Korea exploded its third nuclear device pushing the world ever closer to a worldwide nuclear confrontation. In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, weeks after a night club fire killed over 230 people, four people died after a Carnival float in the Brazilian port city of Santos caught fire after striking a power line during the parade, casting a sombre mood on the final day of the Brazilian Carnival celebrations.

In Madrid Spain, a lifeboat from a British-operated cruise ship with 1,400 passengers aboard fell upside down into the sea at port in Spain’s Canary Islands during a safety drill, killing five crew members and injuring three others.

The northern United States faced another record-breaking blizzard and the Associated Press reported that an 11-year-old Boston Massachusetts boy who was helping his dad get their car out of a snow bank died after being overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning as he sat in the running car to keep warm. The car’s exhaust was blocked by hard packed snow forcing the gas back into the passenger compartment.

In Wilmington, Delaware a man embroiled in a year-long custody dispute, opened fire on Monday morning in a Delaware courthouse lobby just as it was opening to the public for the day, killing three people. The shooter died during an exchange of shots with police.

More than 3,000 passengers and crew aboard the Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Triumph were drifting in the Gulf of Mexico after a fire in the ship’s engine room disabled its electrical and steering systems. The ship, with 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members complaining of extremely poor sanitation conditions as bathrooms were malfunctioning, will be towed to Alabama for repairs.

A tornado snapped trees and damaged buildings in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, including several structures on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, leaving 60 people injured and 200 more homeless in its wake.

In India, A footbridge at an Indian train station crowded with devotees attending a Hindu festival collapsed Sunday. The crowds overran the station; and women, children, and old people were pushed aside as people rushed toward the trains – collapsing the bridge and causing a stampede leaving 37 dead, as some 30 million Hindus celebrated the 55-day Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival. The Kumbh Mela is held four times every 12 years.

An underground methane gas explosion killed 18 miners at a coal pit in northern Russia. It is the latest in a long line of fatal accidents at Russian collieries. Rescue workers had brought 10 bodies to the surface at the Vorkutinskaya mine, owned by Russian steel company Severstal, in the frigid Komi region and were trying to recover eight other bodies. Officials said that 250 people had been in the pit at the time of the blast located about 2,620 feet below the surface, but the majority had escaped or were rescued.

In Barbados, thousands have gathered at political meetings all across the island since the announcement of the February 21 general elections. Estimates of between 10,000 and 18,000 have been recorded at the last weekend mass meeting held at the Carlisle car park. Similar numbers were also estimated for meetings held at the Standard Distributors car park in Haggatt Hall and in St. Philip.

Unlike some countries in the region and in the Middle East, these meetings have not been the scenes of gun fire and suicide bombers. In the interim, I am still very concerned about what the quality of response would be, should the violent events on the world stage begin to occur in Barbados.

And while the mass meetings continued at night, Barbados recorded its first road fatality as another motorcyclist died following a collision with a car. A house fire left its residents with only memories. In Deacons Road, a tree fell on a car trapping and inuring passengers who were inside. One person was taken to hospital while the remaining two, including a baby, were removed, frightened but unharmed.

An examination of some of the entertainment and night life establishments in 2nd Street in Holetown, St. James revealed similar emergency exits and safety short falls as evidenced in St. Lawrence Gap. The 2nd Street scenarios also revealed even greater accessibility problems as many of the buildings share common walls with no open spaces for evacuation planning.

Even in the face of this very blatant shortfall in emergency exits and safety measures for public safety, the entertainment facilities in 2nd Street continue to attract regular nightly support with some patrons spilling in to the road, due to a lack of space on the inside of many places; whose operators are apparently oblivious to the implications of the now passed Safety and Health at Work Act.

The disaster events recorded over the past five weeks are not the only ones that have occurred. Every incident does not reach the world’s media; but that does not mean that someone somewhere is not suffering and in pain either because of property loss, or the passing of loved ones.

Agrofest 2013 starts on February 22 with even larger crowds anticipated. Once more, the issue of mass-crowd-incident-response planning moves higher up on the agenda of emergency planners. At the beginning of this year we began our 100-day overview to observe the preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation activities of Barbados.

Our primary objective was to see if the year 2013 would herald a new attitude towards emergency management and occupational safety and health. It is now February 12 and so far we have not seen any indicators that would signal a change for the better under this heading. However, with the electioneering now impacting every community, let us hope that on February 22 or March 1, that change will occur before the 2013 Hurricane Season begins on June 1.

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