Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Always be at the ready

When it comes to being prepared, one can never be too thorough or too early. Therefore, though the month of June signals the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, it would be wise for people to start taking stock of their vulnerabilities and apparent risks and make the appropriate adjustments right now.

Leading by example is the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), which has been hard at work from as early as March in keeping the public up to date on its improved plans for handling regional disasters. So far we have heard of a new ten-year strategy and a greater focus on country-specific plans, all made more effective through a $20 million grant, as well as plans for a new multi-purpose complex in Barbados, which will comprise a training facility, the Regional Coordinating Centre, warehouse and the Agency’s headquarters.

Yet the workload for CDEMA can be considerably lessened, as can the severity of the impact of storms and hurricanes, if individuals made a greater effort to safeguard their homes, businesses, personal property and, most of all, their lives. The severity of the risks faced by these types of weather systems should be acknowledged by all individuals year-round, not just between the months of June to November, since some preparations may take more time to implement than the weather allows.

Safeguarding one’s home, for instance, should always be at the forefront of one’s mind, so instead of relying on last minute measures like tying down roofs or boarding up windows, consideration can be given even outside of the hurricane season to installing hurricane shutters to protect windows or hurricane straps to protect roofs. Going even further back, homes should be built to the correct safety standards and workers in the construction sector need to ensure that correct methods are employed during the building stage, so that it would become the norm and not the exception, for all homes to be built with hurricane resistance in mind.

Another area where many persons fall down, and which can, and should, be addressed prior to the start of June is the matter of insuring property. Home and business structures should be insured to cover any possible damage which can result from weather systems, either directly or indirectly – including damage caused by flooding and fire. While Barbadians have been spared the ravages of a serious hurricane in recent years, lessons can be learned from the many house fires which leave uninsured homeowners reeling from loss with little prospect of rebuilding.

Personal possessions too, should be protected. Private safes or safety deposit boxes at commercial banks can keep important documents like deeds, wills, or even jewellery in good condition and damage-free. After a storm or a hurricane, it is easier to pick up the pieces and move on if you do not have to worry about recovering the cost of lost possessions or damaged property.

In the end it all comes down to being as prepared as possible and in this the CDEMA has provided a good example. Grenadians and their Caribbean neighbours should take a leaf out of that organisation’s book and take hurricane preparedness more seriously. Traditionally, it has been routine to see hundreds of people lined up within hours of an approaching system to buy food, sheets of wood, or other emergency material. This habit must change. Wherever possible, emergency stock should be obtained beforehand and every precaution taken to prepare for any disaster. As Caribbean people, our actions should reflect more than a fleeting rush to ride out a storm; for us in the region, it should be a way of life.

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