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Are we ready?

Are we ready for the 2013 Hurricane Season? Or will we once more focus on the immediate activities scheduled for June through August, and then worry about the rest of the year?

In my opinion, five in every 10 persons faced with this question will say yes. Three in 10 will say no; and two in 10 will say that they don’t know.

The chance of a major hurricane making landfall in the United States this year is about 80 per cent of the average, and the total tropical cyclone activity will be only 75 per cent of the long term average. These same percentages are also applicable for the Caribbean, as the path to the United States also passes through this region.

However, the economic impact from a disaster on any country in the Caribbean due to a hurricane during 2013 will probably be more devastating than any economist may be able to predict; or inhibit government’s quick infrastructure recovery, when viewed against the current world wide economic environment.

The 2013 projections suggest 16 named storms, nine of those storms becoming hurricanes and five of those hurricanes becoming major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale). Scientists have also said that there has been a sharp rise in sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic Basin since March, and have said that it is another factor which supports their view that 2013 could be at an active hurricane season.

One meteorologist was reported as saying that in their opinion, they were expecting a high impact hurricane season on parts of the Caribbean, the northern Gulf coast, the Florida coast, the Florida Peninsula and the outer banks of North Carolina.

The 2013 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone names are as follows: Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Ingrid, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van, and Wendy.

The DEM recently announced that there would be a series of activities in June as part of their Hurricane Awareness Month, starting on June 9 with a church service, June 12 a “webinar” was being planned, on June 21 there will be a four-hour Public Awareness Display at the General Post Office, and June 28 will be designated as Volunteer Appreciation Day.

Each year, these activities are staged and much attention is given by the media to support them. Each year, hurricane predictions are made and governments release statements encouraging their citizens to prepare, while at the same time inferring that their mitigation projects are proceeding on time.

Ironically, governments are later embarrassed by impacts from the first major flood which revealed that the much talked about mitigation programmes were still not ready to meet the challenges foreseen by analysts and emergency planners.

In November 2011, I wrote about a community cut-off from civilisation in the parish of St. Joseph; and while writing that column I wondered about the security of a people who pleaded for an improvement in their circumstances, especially where their access to the emergency services was severely limited if not non-existent.

In February this year, I travelled with another group of responders on an off-road safari; we used the opportunity to enjoy the scenery, while collecting data and determining tactical approaches to reach difficult terrains. Once more we came upon the communities of Fruitful Hill, Spa Hill, Haggatts, Walkers, and a place called Saddle Back Ridge. While the view from each of these areas presents magnificent vistas, they are all subject to being cut-off from emergency services in the event of a major disaster.

As we approached the area, we immediately knew that this was not a place for luxury 4×4 vehicles, but also recognised that only 4×4 vehicles would be able to make it through this very uneven terrain, made of lose rocks, grass, sand, trees and pot holes which should really be called ravines; all which when mixed with heavy rain would become a nightmare for any standard emergency vehicle especially at night.

What was contradictory was the fact that we had read of improvements to this area but we could not see these improvements and neither could the residents identify where these improvements had been made.

However the question still remains, “Why must we wait until there is tragedy before we institute the necessary measures which would ensure that communities in rural Barbados are not cut off from response when disasters occur?

Why are these areas only accessible by 4×4 vehicles and off road enthusiasts and not standard emergency vehicles?

Hurricanes bring rain, intense wind force and storm surges. They leave behind flooded streets, ravaged shorelines, uprooted trees and utility poles, landslides, devastated homes, death destruction and a traumatized society.

Communities that are isolated due to poor access roads pre-impact are sometimes also the hardest hit due to may factors; including elevation, distance from the shoreline, quality of housing, situated in flood plains. When combined with the impact of a hurricane and the further deterioration of the access road, they may also be the last to get emergency relief due to response community’s inability to deliver that relief.

The areas that were part of our off-road safari need attention, unless an immediate plan is developed and implemented that will definitively create an improved access condition, it is my opinion that during any hurricane impact, these areas will be last to receive assistance from emergency workers. Once

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