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My fellow Vincentians and visitors to our lovely shores:

As has become the norm every year, today I address you at the start of the hurricane season. The hurricane season traditionally begins on June 1st and ends November 30th. However, this year, 2012, the season is off to an early start. On May 19th, 2012, Tropical Storm Alberto became the first named storm of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season and was quickly followed by Tropical Storm Beryl on May 27th. So ready or not, we are already seeing storms forming in the region.

This is a call to action. It is a call for all of us to increase the pace and level of our preparedness to face hurricanes, tropical storms as well as the adverse impact of heavy and prolonged rainfall. We must always remain mindful that for six months of every year, we live in a zone where storms and hurricanes have passed and have created havoc and they will continue to pass through our region. Storms and hurricanes are capable of causing tremendous damage. Lives have been lost in the past. We have seen countries and their economy experiencing major setbacks. Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, we are still in recovery mode from the stunning blow that Hurricane Tomas dealt us in 2010 as well as from the freak storm which washed away so much property in the North Central Windward areas of Langley Park, Georgetown, Congo Valley, Byera and other areas North of the Rabacca River in April last year.

But all is not lost. Thankfully, we have the knowledge of what we need to do to minimize the damage that storms and hurricanes can produce. It is the duty of all Vincentians to know what to do to lives and to minimize the damage that storms and hurricanes can cause; It is the duty of every the individual, every family, all community organisations, the corporate community and of the Government. It is our duty to be fully knowledgeable about the hazards associated with storms and hurricanes; It is our individual and combined duties to take action as necessary.


Individuals and Families

From an individual and family stand point we must begin with finding the right information on how to prepare ourselves and our families to be ready for disasters. You can find the necessary information on the internet. You can also go to the NEMO’s office to collect information packages on hazards of St Vincent and the Grenadines and how to live with them. You must then use the information to learn how to reduce your risks in the face of hazards that can impact your family.

•    If you can make your house stronger, then please do so that your family can have a safe place to shelter during the passage of hurricanes and storms.
•    If it is necessary to go to a shelter while storms are passing, then locate the shelter nearest to you NOW and plan with your family on how you will get there and what you will take to the shelter with you. The emergency shelter inspectors have done their job of inspecting shelters and the list will be published soon in the local news papers.
•    Do not forget to renew your insurance coverage on your house and if you have no coverage, now is the time to approach the insurance companies to negotiate coverage. This method of risk transference is crucial in helping your family and the country to recover faster following the impact of a storm or hurricane.

Organisations and Businesses

History has taught us that businesses and organisations that do not make adequate preparation for disasters flounder and die after disasters come. Without a business continuity plan on how to survive and function during times of disasters, your business is left to chance and you may lose you asset base, your capital and your customers if you are not able to deliver the goods and the services they need when the need them most. Do you notice the way that CWSA, VINLEC, LIME and DIGICEL are able to get their services up and running soon after the adverse impacts of hazards? This is so because they all have business continuity plans which direct what they must do to restore services in the shortest possible time following the impact of a hurricane or storm. In fact, VINLEC has been working very closely with NEMO to operationalize its new emergency plan and on June 4 – 6, VINLEC along with CARILEC, NEMO and CDEMA will conduct further tests to their emergency functions during workshops and simulation exercises. That is the way to go and I encourage all State own companies as well as private companies to do likewise. You simply cannot go wrong if you prepare your company to function during disasters and to bounce back quickly following any disaster. It is the kind of resilience building that will make St Vincent and the Grenadines stronger.

Government

From a Government standpoint, we must lead the way and create the right environment for a sound disaster risk management programme for the country. So what are some of the necessary actions that the Government must take and have taken to save lives and minimize damage from hurricanes and storms? What are some of our immediate and future plans to strengthen disaster management in the State?

1.    Government must lead the entire process to ensure that the country has an effective disaster risk management programme in place. Way back in 2002 we established NEMO with that specific mandate. In 2005 we enacted legislations to legitimize the functions of NEMO, embracing along the way, the Comprehensive Disaster Management Strategy that was proposed by CDERA now CDEMA. NEMO has served us well. NEMO is a broad based organisation comprising many Government agencies as well as NGO’s and the Private Sector. By its very composition NEMO is rich in resources and personnel. NEMO continues to carry the torch for disaster management in the country. I am advised by the Director of NEMO that the time has come to make the revisions to both the Legislation and the National Disaster Management Plan. It is now an international imperative that we shift our approach to disaster risk reduction and to embrace measures and initiatives for climate change adaptation. I have advised the Attorney General to work with the directorate of NEMO to ensure that the necessary Legislative changes are in place by next year. NEMO has also advised me that some external friends will fund the revision of the New Disaster Risk Reduction plan contingent on the creation of the necessary legislative framework. Rest assured therefore that your Government is taking the necessary which include among other things sharpening our response agencies using desktop and field simulation exercises when necessary.

To date the secretariat of NEMO along with other agencies have been involved in simulation exercises such as Region Rap which tests all the emergency communication media such as land lines and cellular telephones, fax, internet, HF and VHF radios and satellite phones. I invite all agencies and private companies that own satellite phones to share your numbers with NEMO so as to improve our communication capacity when other systems are down in times of disaster. I have also requested that the next UNEX Exercise be held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. UNEX is a simulation exercise which involves the Regional Security Systems (RSS) and which tests the regional capacity to respond to security threats and disasters. According to the plan, over 300 members of the RSS will be in St. Vincent in September to test the response of several agencies including NEMO, the Health Services, the Police and the Port Authority. Our first task therefore is to ensure that state agencies are ready and well oiled to help the entire country to be prepared for disasters.

2. During the passage of a hurricane or storm, agencies such the Police, Coast Guard, NEMO, the Health Services and the Red Cross and others hold themselves in readiness to respond. Please remember that when the storm or hurricane is passing through, you must be in a safe shelter in your homes or at a public shelter. We cannot guarantee that any of our emergency responders will be able to come to your assistance while a hurricane or storm is passing. The Emergency Operation Center, the EOC, will be up and running. They will take your calls if you are able to get through and as soon as possible the emergency responders will be sent to assist you. There will be representatives of many agencies at the EOC so that quick decisions can be made in the interest of public safety. When the storm has passed and the ‘all clear’ has been issued, then the Government and its agencies, the NGOs and private sector must join the rest of the country in assessing the damage, determining the needs of the people, prioritizing the nature of the response and must move quickly to provide services to the people. We must restore water, electricity, telecommunication and other essential services. And we do have good examples of how we moved in the past to respond to urgent needs following an adverse impact or disaster. Our swift and decisive response following the impact of Hurricane Tomas in 2010 and the heavy rains in April 2011 are cases in point.


Assistance to persons impacted by Tomas and April 2011 Heavy Rain
•    The official damage assessment by UNECLAC puts the damage from Hurricane Tomas at $130 million and the April rains at $82.94 million dollars.
o    A massive clean-up exercise was necessary following the April Rains at a cost of $4.40 million.
o    The water supply system suffered huge damage but it was back up in record time at a cost of $1.5 million.
o    Many houses were destroyed by the flood. Government has moved swiftly to house the affected population in shelters and almost immediately initiated a home rebuilding programme led by the HLDC. To date, 11 houses have been refurbished and three new ones constructed. We held a magnificent handing over ceremony in Langley Park a few weeks ago when GAO and Mrs. Lewis received keys for their new houses.
o    The National Emergency Management Organisation assisted over sixty-eight families who were impacted by Hurricane Tomas in 2010, April 2011 Floods and other events, at a cost of EC$130,000. Funding for this assistance came through local recurrent expenditure for material assistance/welfare, the United States Agency for International Development, and Australian Aid – through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)
o    At the end of April 2012, the government has already spent EC$295,000 from local budget to provide for families who were affected by the April Floods (shelter management and feeding).
Government and the Recovery Process
The burden of recovering from disasters is a heavy one. Reconstruction is costly and sometimes takes a long time. We have to build better than what we had before and this has a price attached. Government must take the bull by the horn to find the money for the recovery process. We are thankful to LIME for providing $500,000.00 to assist with housing reconstruction following the rains in April 2011. But there is much more to be done.

The list of projects that we are currently implementing for disaster mitigation and recovery is very long. At the recent handing over ceremony at Langley Park when we handed over houses to disaster victims, I gave a full discourse of the projects on stream now as well as those in the pipeline for next year. I encourage the media to run those clips again for the benefit of those people who may not have heard that address.

CONCLUSION
In concluding, I wish here to commend the work that NEMO has done in educating our people about hazards. Please feel free to come to the NEMO office or to approach the staff during their whistle stops to receive useful information packages. The recent lecture on seismic and volcanic hazards which featured our own Dr Richard Robertson was quite interesting and uplifting. I hope to see more of these high power lectures in the future.

I also wish to compliment the work NEMO is doing to preparing the public service to face disasters. On October 10, 2011, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in collaboration with the Service Commissions Department launched the Comprehensive Disaster Management Training for the Public Service. To date, ninety (90) public servants on mainland St. Vincent and Bequia have been trained in Disaster Management and Planning. The overall objective of the training programme is to give liaison officers and public servants an understanding of the operations of NEMO, and to provide basic knowledge and template to develop their individual department and Ministry disaster plans. The training will continue in 2012 with another 200 public servants targeted to receive training in St. Vincent, Bequia, Canouan and Union Island.

My fellow Vincentians let us not be lulled into a sense of false security by the prediction that this year is expected to be a “normal” season. A normal season, yet it is predicted that there are likely to be 10 named storms that may develop in the Atlantic/Caribbean Sea region this year with the possibility of 4 becoming hurricanes and 2 making it into the category of major hurricanes with sustained winds in excess of 111mph. Please remember that it only takes one storm or hurricane making a direct hit on us to cause unimaginable damage.

I sincerely urge all our churches to offer prayers for our protection and deliverance during this hurricane season. Please remember that God helps those who help themselves. We simply cannot sit and do nothing and expect to survive the ravages of a storm or hurricane. We must get up, finds the necessary information and take action. It is the right thing to do for yourself, your family, your business, your community and for your country. May God bless and keep us all during this hurricane season and always.

 

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