Waiting for the hit

The Atlantic is quiet at the moment, but over the past two weeks including the Kadooment weekend, two tropical depressions passed within 35 miles to the north east of Barbados, and once more the average Barbadian responded as usual in scramble mode.

However, another response occurred as Tropical Depression #7 was approaching, which further reinforces my opinion that Barbados does not expect to ever experience a catastrophic disaster. As TD #7 approached, no one seemed perturbed about its possible impact even though it was following a similar path to TD #5, which became Tropical Storm Ernesto. The majority of people that I questioned about their plans for TD# 7 said that they were going to wait and see before doing anything.

The majority of hotels and resorts along the west coast did not activate their preparedness plans, and there were no postponements or relocating of any of their in-house activities. The majority of visitors on the west coast were not even aware of an impending event, even though the Nation Hurricane Centre had stated on Saturday that Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines were on tropical storm watch.

One resort manager said that they would wait before implementing any preparations as had been done for TD #5. In fact, they complained that they had very little help in putting back the pool furniture afterwards and were not prepared to do any unnecessary work this time around — so they left everything in its place.

The following day, I was greeted with “I told you so!” and “You see nothing happened!”. Someone described it as “All this hype and worry was for nothing”, and another “Bajans like creating fuss over nothing”.

One of the most alarming reactions I observed, during the past two events, was from a broadcaster on one of our FM stations, who, on the morning after Ernesto, could be heard stating how they had been looking for some excitement from Ernesto but were disappointed that nothing happened.

The broadcaster was then heard asking listeners to call in and share their views on what happened, also to let them know if they too, were disappointed by Ernesto’s quiet passing. It is conduct like this from individuals who are part of a group that can influence social behaviour, that makes me wonder if I am living in a Twilight Zone.

How could a broadcaster (I think they prefer to be called “DJs”) who should know better, publicly state that they were disappointed that Ernesto did not impact Barbados? Are they aware of how much they can influence social behaviour? Are they aware that before, during and after moments of public crisis, that their voices on public radio stations can either contribute to supporting public reassurance and comfort or can contribute to increased anarchy and confusion?

I raised these questions with a station manager who said to me that radio DJs are a new breed of broadcasters and do not truly recognise the level of influence that they have, or the potential for abuse of the public trust when they go astray from station policy.

The manager said staff members were often cautioned about the station’s policies on behaviour while on the air, which by their actions, could be seen as contrary to the views of the station. However, this kind of DJ behaviour is not restricted to radio stations.

Immediately following the passage of Ernesto, announcements could be heard suggesting business as usual and to get ready for the 2012 Kadooment weekend, and that Ernesto was not going to stop or slow down Kadooment 2012. I wonder what would have happened if Ernesto had turned out to be our worst nightmare? Would Crop-Over Festival 2012 have been postponed until later or depending on how much power was lost and the entertainment venues remained unscathed, would the events still have gone on once power was restored?

For the majority of Barbadians, TD #7 stalled to the east of Barbados, and passed Barbados as a tropical wave slightly to the north, leaving some rain behind; and as of this week its remnants were moving over the central Caribbean Sea and producing disorganised showers and thunderstorms from the central Caribbean northward to Jamaica.

As the two tropical depressions developed and passed I posed some preparedness questions to a sample group across the island, the answers once more reinforces my view that we must urgently try to reduce complacency among Barbadians. Residents in the more affluent areas like Fort George and Sunset Crest said that they did not have to do much preparation, as they were sure that a tropical depression would not affect them.

Residents in areas like White Hill and Hillaby said that they did what they could but still lamented the state of roads and other infrastructure. On the contrary, some churches questioned about their level of preparation regarding both natural and technological hazards, stated that much had to be done before they could consider themselves ready for a hazard. One church noted that they had not even disconnected their electronic equipment as TD #5/Ernesto approached the island.

Residents in Wotton, Kingsland, Silver Hill and Kendal Hill noted that they had been doing repairs since Tomas. Wotton and Kingsland residents especially wondered if the flood prevention works carried out would be better this year, as they had no intention of going through another flood. On the issue of checking roofs for weakness, many said that money played a big factor in securing rooftops, but hoped that what little they did would be enough.

There seems to be a consensus among lower income families that Government should provide financial assistance in structural home preparedness under its national disaster preparedness policy. However, officials in most government agencies have said that not all lower income families will qualify for financial assistance, because as long as there is more than one person working in a family, that available financial assistance though not impossible, the criteria for assistance would be a little more difficult to meet.

In most counties, including the US, governments do not have any specific provisions within their preparedness and recovery policies for unlimited financial assistance for structural preparedness. Most of its programming, including the US National Flood Insurance Programmes, still require that families undertake home preparedness on their own, including purchasing insurance.

In Barbados, there is no national flood insurance programme, and families regardless of their personal financial capabilities must still purchase insurance policies that cover natural and technological hazards.

Most residents questioned on this issue suggested that Government should consider investigating the US National Flood Insurance Programme, with a view to introducing a similar programme for Barbados.

While this may be a good idea, I still maintain that complacency and not treating disaster preparedness as a personal priority, remains one of the major factors that contributes to the damages that can be recorded after a natural hazard. It is time to stop ignoring the potential power of a natural hazard and start preparing your home to see the next day.

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