Elements of a disaster preparedness program for St. James

Call it the result of Global Warming, call it what you will. The inescapable fact is that within recent years we have been witnessing adverse weather patterns resulting in hurricanes of increasing frequency and intensity. Seismic shifts have also been governing the attention of scientists worldwide and our own “Kick em Jenny” off the coast of Grenada craves our attention. Projection for the latter’s impact on the St. James community, bounded by the sea, are indeed startling.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) have a number of plans in place to treat with these eventualities. The problem is that by the time their response machinery is up and running, many in need of immediate attention would have lost their lives. The importance therefore of first responders is critical. The St. James Community Improvement Committee (CIC) must, as a consequence, accept the challenge and provide the leadership in the preparation and execution (when the need arises) of a Disaster Preparedness Plan for St. James, as called for in our Vision Statement.

As a first step, I wish to propose some points we need to flesh out as we develop our plan. These, it should be pointed out, are in no particular order of priority nor are they representative of an exhaustive list of ‘To Do’ items:

  1. We should liaise with the ODPM, Health Services, T&T Police (Western Division), Port of Spain City Corporation, REACT, and any other relevant agency that could impact on the development and/or implementation of our plan.

  2. We should draw up a list of Do’s and Don’ts for any impending disaster and disseminate same to all homes and businesses in our community. The list can be culled in part from those drawn up by the various national, regional, and international agencies that deal with Disaster Preparedness. We do not have to re-invent the wheel.

  3. We should draw up complementary protocol for Special Needs Persons – elderly, disabled, afflicted young, diabetics, victims of stroke and other health ailments; some of whom may need special care, attention, and particular medication. This should also include a designated area to place the homeless (the most vulnerable of our community) during the time of a disaster.

  4. We should appoint at least two (2) Captains from each street to provide information and coordinate relief efforts for their street. They should, as part of their mandate, identify residents where the elderly and/or disabled live alone, or where they could possibly be alone at the time a disaster strikes.

  5. We should establish points of assembly e.g. (1) Police Barracks Grounds, (2) St. James Infirmary Grounds, (3) Anthony Williams Park, (4) Ellie Manette Park, (5) St. James Park and Amphitheater, etc. These points must act as Centers of Distribution for emergency foodstuff and other materials and also to setup tents and cots if the need arises. Space must be open enough for Helicopter drops in the first instance.

  6. We should recommend areas for shelters (schools, etc.) and once accepted, identify same to the community

  7. We should recognise the Electronic Communication (radio, television, telephone) are usually among the first casualties in a disaster. Our Street Captains should therefore be equipped with two-way radios (Walkie Talkies). We should also identify and enlist the services of Ham Radio operators in the community. Their work could be invaluable.

  8. We should liaise with the St. James Emergency Hospital to ascertain their capability in times of disaster; Prevail upon the Ministry of Health where there may be shortcomings and; Establish proper working relationships with supervisory staff at the facility. These do not of course preclude a similar approach to the private hospitals that service our area.

  9. We should organise a standing facility with the government and selected supermarkets in the are that could be activated in the event of a disaster. This would ensure a more equitable system of distribution of food and water. In reference to this, we must ensure that people are aware of the proper handling and storage practices particularly in times of disaster.

  10. We should recommend that closure of all businesses with an approaching hurricane excepting of course those that deal with emergency services. Supermarkets could be recommended for a grace period in which to operate.

The time after a disaster is critical to saving lives. We must be efficient with it. We should not be cavalier with an approaching hurricane and say “it cyar happen here”. God my be a Trini and my indeed be living in St. James but he also helps those who help themselves. Let’s get to work!

Anthony Ferguson Revised August 15th 2011