Disaster agency under financial pressure
Two days into what forecasters predict will be a relatively quiet hurricane season, the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) revealed it’s weathering a financial storm and will have to cut back on how many people it helps if disaster strikes.
According to Director of DEM, Judy Thomas, the agency charged with responding to disasters has been hard hit by the Government’s austerity measures and it’s now struggling to cope.
“Our programme has expanded considerably since 2003 when we were given an expanded mandate and we really are struggling at the moment in maintaining the kinds of demands being made on us to service the national emergency management programme,” she said.
“We are sitting down, putting our heads together and looking at creative ways to still get the thing done with little or nothing; we are really struggling but we will not give up. We will try to pull in support from other agencies. We have to make bread but we don’t have the stone but we will find the stone because we can’t give up.”
As a result of the financial pressure, Thomas said the DEM would have to prioritize what must be done and postpone those things which could wait.
She served early notice that assistance would therefore only be provided to those who are desperately in need of help.
“There is not going to be a lot of money around to respond to major incidents and therefore it is important that the level of preparedness at the national, corporate and community levels are raised. . . . Our budget has been curtailed and that will limit a lot of the activities that we have planned but we are using another strategy in terms of the corporate support for our programming,” she said.
“It is a juggling act. We are pretty well good at doing that but there comes a time when you really can’t juggle anymore. This staff is very creative, they are overcommitted to this programme and to make sure that the Barbadian public can rely on them to produce with whatever materials they have, in whatever capacity they have.”
Thomas was speaking this morning at a news conference to mark the start of the 2014 hurricane season and the re-launch of the department’s website. She also called for a shared responsibility approach among the emergency management systems, private sector and the community this wet season.
Stressing that the DEM was under constant pressure, both in and out of season, to avert the disruption of the well-being of Barbadians, she said the department was heavily reliant on each person to play their part for national preparedness.
The director urged Barbadians to do all they can to lend their support to the department.
She said that even in the face of predictions for an uneventful hurricane season Barbadians should turn their focus to cleaning up their communities and refraining from littering which often clogs drains, as she noted that the island was running on a “dirty environmental landscape”.
“We are looking for expertise in other areas that can come and support….we are drawing from the wider capacity in the country to compliment the things that we have not been able to get this year. It is not a DEM total responsibility but everyone is expected to play a role on their part. This is the time for personal and community preparedness to be stepped up to increase the capacity of your household and community,” Thomas said.
Reiterating that point, deputy director of the DEM, Kerry Hinds, insisted that preparedness was a shared responsibility for all Barbadians and not just the response agencies.
“I would like to reinforce that the public should bear in mind that although it is a quiet season just one event can disrupt our normal daily routine. Therefore it is really incumbent on the public, on all of us here as stakeholders in the national system, to heed the warnings and put the necessary precautions in place to ensure our own safety and the safety of our families and our communities,”