Major Focus on Shelters for 2012 Hurricane Season

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With Barbados’ vulnerability to tropical storms, floods and hurricanes rated as "extremely high," more private buildings and churches will be listed in the 2012 Hurricane Shelter Booklet when it is made available by mid-June.

Director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM), Judy Thomas, made this disclosure during a Press conference to officially launch the 2012 hurricane season at her Warrens, St. Michael office last Friday.

Her comments have come as more focus is placed on bolstering the capacity of shelters across Barbados in the event of a storm or hurricane, despite predictions for a mild hurricane season this year due to an El Nino effect.

"We have seen out of [Tropical Storm] Tomas, where there was a substantial impact on the chattel housing in Barbados, that the whole question of housing repairs and shelter is one that we have to pay special attention to," she said.

To this end, the Housing Recovery and Rehabilitation Standing Committee under the Chief Technical Director at the National Housing Corporation is expected to meet this month to critically look at the impact of the Tomas recovery, the procedures that were in place, and new procedures which emerged.

Ms. Thomas admitted that there were challenges with Tomas, but stressed that officials were using the experience to influence procedural plans going forward.

"We made changes and did some tweaking in 2011, but we did not have the systems to test those new procedures, so we are still going to use 2010 as the benchmark year for reviewing procedures and plans," the Director indicated.

She added that more private entities and churches would be included as shelters this year and listed in the new booklet.

The shelters would be listed as Category One, and have strong infrastructure and better construction standards.

"It is not every school or every facility that has been designated. The ones we identified are the ones we would have done some engineering assessments on before, and some of them were enhanced during the construction programme under the Ministry of Education.

"So, we [will] go into this hurricane season with some confidence that the ones that we have listed can pretty well secure the safety of those [persons] going in them," the Director stated.

Ms. Thomas also made it clear that the private buildings and churches also underwent engineering assessments before being considered or added to the list of hurricane shelters.

"We are having negotiations now, and once they are listed they would have completed that particular requirement. It has now been part of the standard requirement for the shelter programme," she said.

However, while officials are seeking to improve procedures and the number of shelters available, they are also placing a greater emphasis on personal preparedness and the level of individual household preparations.

"If we can get the household preparations up to an acceptable level, it means the demand on sheltering and public buildings will be reduced considerably," Ms. Thomas said.

She added that attention would also be placed on the neighbourly and community response to sheltering.

"If people are living in an area where they know they have substantial housing infrastructure that can accommodate people, we would expect that the community effort would kick in, and that people would try to assist in sheltering people overnight at least until the All Clear is given so that we can have no deaths with a system that comes our way," the Director pointed out.

The DEM Director is reminding all residents that while the 2012 hurricane season is expected to be an inactive one, it would only take one storm to completely devastate Barbados.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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