Are we prepared?
We are now two weeks away from the official start of the 2013 hurricane season, and although the “June too soon” label may lull some into complacency, it would be unwise to let such a feeling envelope the country.
Unlike earthquakes and so many other types of natural disasters, modern science gives those in the path of a hurricane ample time to prepare — which may include simply getting out of the way.
Our meteorologists can observe the formation of a weather system off the coast of Africa and follow its every movement as well as its strength every kilometre of the way across the Atlantic. Often, with several weeks of lead time and pretty accurate forecasting of the possible path, persons in the United States who are likely to be impacted have the option of driving hundreds of miles away from the danger zone.
In the Eastern Caribbean, however, when we look at the satellite photos, it is almost immediately evident in every instance that the size of the system literally dwarfs even our biggest islands. There is really nowhere to run!
For us in this situation, preparation becomes even more critical and can take many forms. While we in Barbados have a way of demonstrating the best qualities of humanity in the face of such emergencies, we can never lose sight of the fact that with our limited resources prevention is truly much better than cure.
Unlike when Super Storm Sandy slammed the US east coast last year, we don’t have the capacity to transfer patients from one affected hospital to another — so our Queen Elizabeth Hospital has to be in a position to take a licking and keep on ticking.
We probably have about two dozen functioning ambulances between the public and private sector so we have a duty to ensure that their operators are prepared for a hurricane — not in September, but in June.
Barbadians are going through some of their toughest economic times and we are reasonably sure that a not insignificant number have been forced to trim even essential spending. It is therefore likely that many householders no longer have insurance, or have coverage that is much less than their potential losses.
Additionally, it is also clear from looking around our country that many people are not doing the repairs they once undertook like clockwork. All of this suggests that the burden on the state if a hurricane makes landfall this year will be even greater.
We failed miserably in dealing with the minimal damage done by Tomas in 2010, a mere tropical storm, and three years later there are still persons complaining that promised help never arrived. A stronger system, in the normal course of things will bring even more damage, but if more homes are vulnerable because of a lack of repairs and more have no insurance coverage, the rebuilding exercise will be a national strain.
Have our emergency planners considered such a scenario — particularly in light of the fact that the state itself is struggling with cash flow? Is there a contingency plan for rapid rehabilitation if we should lose, for example, Springvale Road in St. Andrew, Melvin’s Hill Bridge and Joes River Bridge in St. Joseph, all of which are vulnerable?
In these tough economic times does the BL&P keep as many replacement poles in stock as it used to? How prepared is the forever troubled, always cash strapped Barbados Water Authority for the challenges it could face?
There are some things a country and its citizens can do once there is a high probability that we will be impacted by a hurricane — but there are others, if not tackled well in advance, will lead to absolute misery.
How prepared are we, really?