Disaster Preparedness Is Your Responsibility!

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As Barbados prepares for the start of the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season, former Director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM), Judy Thomas, has issued her final official warning ??? the responsibility is yours!

???The safety and wellbeing of yourself and your family is your responsibility. It is a responsibility that you cannot push on someone else,??? she emphasised.

As she hangs up her hat after 26 years at the DEM, the icon on the emergency landscape still has one concern ??? the attitude of citizens towards possible hazards or disasters.

However, she has given the assurance that Government is working to implement systems to better inform the public about such threats and how best to manage them. But, she stressed, in the final analysis, the responsibility for preparedness rests with each individual.

???There comes a time in the whole scheme of things when you are on your own, and your own survival instincts and your survival capacity will determine the next day if you are alive or dead,??? she cautioned.

Ms. Thomas leaves behind a legacy after starting the process of transitioning the mindsets of residents from simply responding to disasters, such as storms and hurricanes, to one where they now seek to reduce disaster risk and embrace comprehensive disaster management.

On taking up her posting at the Central Emergency Relief Organisation (CERO) in 1983, Ms. Thomas ensured that she learnt and read all that she could on the job, earning herself a National Development Scholarship and completing a degree in Disaster Management.

That qualification assisted her greatly as CERO transitioned into the DEM, and a greater focus was placed on disaster risk reduction, in keeping with new global trends and the International Decade for Disaster Risk Reduction, which started in 1990.

Ms. Thomas also played a key role in the setting up of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Relief Agency, now the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and later went on to write one of the first concept papers for the island on Comprehensive Disaster Management.

But, that was just the beginning of her influence in the emerging field. ???The whole transition from CERO to DEM came at a time when the world was tired of providing relief and the United Nations brought in the concept of disaster risk reduction,??? she recalled.

However, Ms. Thomas lamented that there were still gaps in the move towards comprehensive disaster management.??She explained that there was still a ???wait for something to happen to respond??? attitude, and even a lacklustre approach to calling in the army should something happen.

The retired Director added that while she understood that she was running a national emergency management system, and not simply coordinating another Government department, some did not see it in that way.

Noting that Barbados was seen as a leader in disaster management in the Caribbean, Ms. Thomas pointed out that she had ???a hell of a responsibility to ensure that Barbados maintained its standing in disaster management in the region for the quality of work that they put in???, sometimes with a lack of resources.

Looking back, Ms. Thomas said she was pleased to see that much progress had been made over the years, especially as the field of disaster management offered a wide scope for persons to enter various professions.?????But there is still a need to place it in the civil service architecture,??? she maintained.

Now that her tenure has come to an end, is there anything Judy Thomas would change if given the chance? ???I would do it all over again!??? she said emphatically, but acknowledged that she would require more help and support.

The former Director thanked those who took an interest in helping her along her journey, noting that she was happy to work for the people of Barbados.

Acting Director of the DEM, Kerry Hinds, will now carry the mantle as the country prepares for this hurricane season. ???Ms. Hinds understands the concept that she is not running a disaster office but a national system,??? Ms. Thomas said.

She also assured the country that the DEM???s staff was highly professional and highly trained, with skills that she did not even have on entering the civil service. ???They are committed to the wellbeing of the people in Barbados,??? she affirmed.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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