District Emergency Organizations in Barbados need to be reformed if they are to achieve their full potential and be effective.
Advisor and Disaster Resilience Officer in the Office of the Vice Chancellor at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Jeremy Collymore, made a call for this change as he addressed a DEO’s meeting last Sunday on the topic Getting Ready.
Dr. Collymore stressed that there was a need to have a critical look at the DEOs which at present “appear unhinged from the central system”, and to engage them at a higher level.
“There is the notion that the DEOs are focused on community disaster planning, but so is the Red Cross. So, what is the entity for structuring these collaborative efforts in the community space?” he questioned.
Dr. Collymore said there was a need to create a national community training certification programme where people who volunteered could receive training and be awarded a Vocational Certificate of Competence.
“We could train the artisans in particular skills – first aid, rebuilding, how to use the smart phone to capture vulnerability assessment information and send back to the DEO – so when you say that you are a certified community activist, or practitioner, everybody knows that there is a national set of skills and competences associated. They should not be ad hoc,” he said.
But at the same time, he challenged those present to go further and consider: “Should a DEO system be based on volunteerism and just response, when we are talking about reducing the threats in our communities? Should they get more technical support from the DEM (Department of Emergency Management) secretariat, and how would that be organized? Would you have staff officers added to the secretariat, or would you have a core set of dedicated persons from the secretariat to work with the DEOs?”
Dr. Collymore, also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development, challenged policymakers to rethink the effectiveness of having 30 DEOs.
“Maybe you can have 11. We need to think through these geographic articulations of the DEOs in relation to the resources and service. That may require high-level political dialogue,” he stated.
He suggested that if the DEOs were not divided by parish, consideration could perhaps be given to zoning them and providing supporting officers for two or three zones.
Dr. Collymore also took issue with the apparent lack of documentation of the work achieved by DEOs. “Is there a national reporting system for the DEOs that allow them to benchmark where they are going, or are we just doing business as usual?” he questioned.
However, he pointed out that there was already a suite of high-level policies, visions, statements and opportunities, which would give the space to rethink the DEOs’ structure and resource disaster risk management in the region.