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Disaster party

Last Saturday night, thousands of party goers heralded the beginning of Crop-Over Festival 2013, with the launch of the Cavalcades at Dover Playing Field in St. Lawrence Gap. And once more the emphasis on partying and merriment overshadowed the need for a response to the questions on the overall safety of the public against natural and technological hazards.

Once more, the need to party and parade in the streets replaced the rhetoric; but no tangible evidence of individual commitment to improving their conditions could be seen.

Last week, the DEM director noted that based on climate change and the projected frequency of intense storms, that the prognosis for Barbados did not bring comfort. She added that it was important that everyone prepared for what the 2013 Hurricane Season could bring. Strong words from the director, but I wonder how many people paid any attention to her words, or even considered the implications of her prognosis?

Consider that while she was addressing the status of the island’s level of readiness, other groups were busy presenting their “Foreday Morning” costumes to the media, and at the same time preparing for the rest of the Cavalcades.

This country has not yet had to face catastrophic landslides trapping people beneath tons of mud and rocks; requiring the declaration of national rescue responses and assistance. Barbados, like many other countries in the Caribbean, has not yet had to face the tragic and painful task of removing dozens of bodies from beneath collapsed structures due to landslides or multi-storey residential complexes; while their families listen to empty reasoning as why it happened and what would be done to ensure that it would never happen again.

During the past five months, however, these scenarios including the collapse of a building in the industrial district of Bangladesh killed over 1,100 hundred people. The Bangladesh tragedy was played out in the homes of Barbadians compliments of the international press; and despite the very graphic images of these events, the question still remains, “Why must we wait until there is tragedy of similar proportions before we institute the necessary measures which would ensure that it does not happen?”

As responders, we often ask “why”, but the answers received are usually filled with the rhetoric of the day and that economics and rising unemployment dictates the national priorities and determines the steps necessary to resolve the problem.

June is less than three weeks way, and as always, this period is usually our last opportunity to plan for the possible eventuality of a tropical storm or hurricane breaching our shores. This is our final stress free checking opportunity before the advent of a system.

It is this final pre-season period where the media will once more present their hurricane preparedness supplements, and television and radio programmes contain a wealth of information for the benefit of the country.

There is a section of the community which in our opinion, is a section that is often either overlooked or it is assumed that their needs have already been met and therefore there is no need to worry about them. I am referring to senior citizens and disabled residents of this country.

All of the DEOs have, on varying occasions, raised this issue of preparing for the disabled and the senior citizens as part of their community preparedness plans; but again, responders often comment about how the majority of pre-planning exercises only seem to focus on the able-bodied and the young, but never specifically exercising and planning for the disabled and the old.

Preparing and planning under this heading of emergency management is a very complex area and it requires special attention; as this group during a disaster situation, in some circumstances, might not be the first priority group that is reached by rescue teams and the welfare services. There are a number of reasons why this type of priortisation might occur. The statistical information on how many are living alone, their ages and where they are located, might not be as available as was thought before the event; preparedness and response information on how many are visual and/or hearing impaired and their addresses might also not be as comprehensive as was first thought.

Operation information on the preparedness and readiness levels of the privately run care facilities, the number of established facilities, their location, and patient count may also prove to be a problem. And finally, the administrative ability to provide suitable alternate accommodation for this group may also not be easily accomplished; as the majority of public shelters are schools, therefore such an emergency accommodation plan also requires additional man power armed with the training and knowledge needed to meet the demands of this group.

Let us take a closer look at one element under this heading: Information on the preparedness and readiness levels of the privately run care facilities, the number of established facilities, their location, and patient count. Government and the private sector administer a number of facilities in Christ Church, St. Philip, St. Michael, St. James and St. Lucy.

The total population accommodated in all of these facilities when faced with a catastrophic scenario, begs the question of what will happen to them in the event of partial or near total collapse of theses structures? Where will these residents be relocated too? And how long will it take for this process of relocation to be completed? Will the pre-impact services offered to the persons also be available at the relocated facility?

These are all provocative questions which this paper will seek to receive answers to present during the next three weeks. The concern here is not one of creating controversy, but one of highlighting the needs of a group of persons, who during their prime, contributed to the development of this country, and therefore at this juncture in their lives, and that regardless of their age or physical circumstances, should also be afforded the same planning and preparedness considerations as any other section of the society.

The media constantly highlight another national with a heart rending story, who for varying reasons has fallen through the cracks of the foundation of this society. Each time these stories are written, I wonder what will happen when a catastrophe occurs and these persons constitute a significant proportion of the overall body count?

In today’s Barbados, it would appear that the concept of comprehensive preparedness and emergency response and providing access to every part of the country is becoming [what I hope is not] a social and political football with the goal bars set so far apart that it will take miracle to score a goal.

Am I being facetious? Yes I am. Could it be said that I am displaying some evidence of impatience with the population, as the collective emphasis appears to be more on partying and not preparedness? Yes. Should the officials that manage the infrastructure that supports the emergency response affairs of this country shift their emphasis from one of passive prodding to one of a more aggressive direct method of stirring the community consciousness of the population? Yes.

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