The hurricane season is upon us once again and the popular phrase "Be Prepared" is being used as a constant reminder in the print and electronic media.

However, while some persons are capable of making adjustments to their homes and shopping for supplies, there is a small sector of our population that do not have the ability to join in these exercises; they are the vulnerable persons – the elderly, the disabled and persons with special needs.

With this important group existing in our community, specific plans have to be put in place to ensure their safety in the event of any type of natural disaster, especially a hurricane. The National Assistance Board (NAB) is one of the entities responsible for the development of safety procedures for the vulnerable members of this society. The Board, in collaboration with several other organisations, including the Royal Barbados Police Force, the Barbados Fire Service, the Barbados Defence Force, the National Disabilities Unit, the Urban and Rural Development Commissions and the newly formed Constituency Councils, has selected a number of persons from within these organisations to form the Vulnerable Persons Committee (VPC).

This Committee has been mandated, since 1983, to compile a list of vulnerable persons from communities across the island, who have no one to care for them, and would need assistance in the event of a disaster. Individuals on this list will be transported from their homes to a registered shelter when a hurricane warning has been issued.?? During the hurricane, trained personnel will tend to their needs and transport them back to their residence, when the all clear is given.

Director of the NAB, Ms. Charyn Wilson, stated that the list of vulnerable persons is constantly being updated, but urged Barbadians to notify the Board of any person in their community who lived alone, and should be included on the list.

Outside of the hurricane season, members of the VPC facilitate a year-long disaster awareness programme, where they go into the communities and disperse reading material on what to do before, during and after a hurricane. They also make persons aware of the fact that they may need to seek refuge in a shelter, and inform them of the necessities that they should take. Members also visit nursing homes and shelters to ensure that they too have fulfilled all the requirements to be considered hurricane ready.?? Checks are done for ramp installations, smoke alarms, water storage facilities, first aid kits and burglar alarms.

In another effort, Assistant Director (Operations) at the Urban Development Commission, Ewald Mullen, has prepared a guide for disaster planning, response and recovery. The booklet entitled "Emergency and Disaster Planning For the Elderly, Disabled and Special Needs Population", was recently launched at the Ministry of Social Care, Constituency Empowerment, Urban and Rural Development, by Minister Christopher Sinckler.

Mr. Sinckler lauded the establishment of the guide, and commended Mr. Mullen for his concept to sensitise vulnerable persons on the need to be prepared for a disaster.

He maintained: "In Barbados we have a properly defined management system through the District Emergency Organisation, but differentiated treatment for Persons With Disabilities is not something we have seen…And while we do our planning for everyone in the country, it is good to have tools to deal with special communities within that general population."

The booklet, which contains a wide range of information on hurricane preparedness for the vulnerable, advises persons to be prepared, get informed, make a plan and assemble a disaster supplies kit. It also provides a checklist of requirements for operators of senior citizens’ homes and managers of emergency shelters.

The Social Care Minister maintained that although the booklet would be very useful, "it does not tell Persons With Disabilities and their caregivers everything that has to be done and it certainly does not portend to eclipse what are the national procedures and protocols that have been developed by the Department of Emergency Management. What it seeks to do, however, is complement those."

This manual was conceptualised by Mr. Mullen, following his return from a National Hurricane Conference in Florida.?? He issued a plea that the organisations responsible for instituting plans and programmes for disaster preparedness would "involve the disabled in all aspects of disaster planning…Plan with them, not just for them."

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