2015 –– one final look . . .

EMERGENCY911 block-1To my readers, please accept my best wishes for 2016. I wish you a safe, healthy and successful year.

From my point of view there were some interesting moments that caught my attention and that of others in the emergency response community.

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

Residential communities cannot efficiently prepare for any type of disaster if their road network is not in place, or is so poorly maintained that Government’s emergency services are unable to respond to a call.

Barbados has not faced catastrophic scenarios in the past 25 years. However, during the last quarter of this year there has been constant media attention to the many ground collapse events and landslides occurring in the Scotland District. Entire communities have been impacted by these events, forcing some families to relocate to safer areas, while many more await assistance from the Government.

My concern here, however, is that while these families are waiting for assistance, the ground continues to move.

In August, flooding in Dominica reached catastrophic levels. Over 40 lives were lost, and the government reported that the country’s infrastructure faced an uphill struggle to recovery and physical restoration. Unaffected Caribbean countries responding to Dominica’s need all confirmed the intensity of flood damages inflicted by the rain.

In September, the Seismic Research Unit in Trinidad once again highlighted the need for regional earthquake preparedness. Through its monitoring of the underwater volcano Kick ’Em Jenny, it raised its warning levels from “yellow” to “orange” as activity increased. This changing of the colour code immediately raised red flags in the neighbouring islands whose coastlines are most vulnerable to earthquake and volcanic triggered tsunamis.

It is now December, 2015, and fortunately for the region, that prediction has not yet come to pass. And while I am not wishing for its occurrence, we all must recognize that it is an event that will happen. In the interim, I sincerely hope that the region’s emergency management planners will utilize the time to develop an effective response to its eventuality.

Regional news media reported on September 3 that Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin was still pounding The Bahamas as it slowly began to move away. The US Coast Guard finally concluded that the 790-foot container ship El Faro, with 33 crew on board, was another victim of Hurricane Joaquin. This conclusion was based on the discovery of a 250-mile-wide debris field, and the recovery of one body in the ocean.

The vessel, which was last reported seen near the northern Bahamas, had apparently sunk in 15,000 feet of water at the height of Hurricane Joaquin.

Media news reports stated that some Bahamian residents were complaining they did not have enough warning about the arrival of Joaquin. Similar criticisms were being made in the Carolinas about the number of public notices received regarding the amount of rain that could have been expected by residents.

The complaints carried in news reports of residents not having enough warning from authorities about the level of threat from natural hazards once again underscore how preparedness and emergency planning are treated.

The recent tragic events in Paris saw 130 people killed and hundreds injured. These included victims from 26 unrelated countries. The subsequent lockdown in Belgium and the France’s decision to extend the state of emergency, instituted as a result of the Paris tragedy, also extended to the French islands in the Caribbean.

As explained in the media, the state of emergency gave the French law enforcement agencies wide powers to detain any individual who had been deemed a suspect or security threat to France. It granted wide search, seizure and arrest powers to law enforcement agencies, and
it imposed a curfew without actually declaring one.

Shortly after the Paris terrorist incident, over one hundred countries met in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Conference attendees focused on the effects of global warming and its impact on the Earth’s environment, and the continuing deterioration of the world’s natural resources. The conference also recognized the continuing indiscriminate disposal of both domestic and commercial hazardous waste, which remains one of the most significant contributors to the subtle but deliberate contamination of the world’s food supply.

Existing environmental and public health regulations clearly state that the manufacturer or waste generator ultimately remains responsible for the waste until it has been safely disposed of. However, during the last three months of 2015, this paper continued to highlight the indiscriminate illegal dumping of commercial and household waste products under the cover of darkness in isolated open fields or vulnerable watercourses. The impact on the environment from this behaviour may not be seen in the short term, but in the long term as the quality of the drinking water supply becomes tainted and eventually is declared unfit for human consumption, the enforcement of environmental and public health regulations will be too late.

Barbados has survived another year without a catastrophe, but have Barbadians learned anything? Will 2016 be Barbados’ year to experience a catastrophe? Will Barbados be prepared and ready to respond and recover, as many of their neighbours have had to do? Are we aware that regardless of the political posturing, it is our responsibility to protect the environment? Are we questioning the grandiose plans our leaders present, as the protective mechanisms needed to protect our fragile environment are only given cursory attention?

Barbados, as an island, is our home, but not our personal playground which we may subject to indiscriminate and unwarranted abuse. Life is priceless; this island is precious; we must remain aware of how our activities permanently impact the natural environment, especially when we indiscriminately dispose of waste.

I am thankful for the continued support and encouragement received from my editor; and I hope that what I have been sharing with you, as my readers, has been of benefit, and that you have been able to use some of what I have presented to improve your personal level
of preparedness planning.

My wish for you for 2016, a year which will most likely begin with unsureness for many, is that regardless of any economic or social uncertainties, that you live long, healthy, happily and safely.

(Email rgw.rgw1@gmail.com) 

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