As tropical activity increases in the Atlantic Ocean, after a calm start, residents throughout Barbados should take stock that the hurricane season is getting into full swing and they must find time now, those who have not already done so, to quickly develop a family disaster plan in case of emergency.

Since weather systems can change their status quickly, it is just as important to monitor local reports, stay informed about conditions and pay attention to emergency information from government officials and agencies.

Though Bill, the season’s first hurricane, is out of the way, it is very likely that we will see several severe storms churning in the Atlantic between now and the end of November.?? In fact, the Leeward Islands are fresh from a recent hurricane warning for Erika, the season’s fifth tropical storm. It is, therefore, everyone’s duty to ensure that the nation is prepared before our country is impacted. Clearly, it is time to determine what the needs are for your family and loved ones, remembering that in the national emergency response team the public is the most important member.??????

It is distressing; just the thought of a major hurricane taking lives and devastating our version of paradise. Barbados is a great place to live and call home; everyday we enjoy a lifestyle enhanced by top-rated beaches, fabulous weather, nice people, cultural events peculiar to Barbadian tradition and abundant fishing.

However, each year there is the ever-present threat and risk of hurricanes. Of course, as a nation, we have the critical information and resources to survive a hurricane. But we cannot change its course or strength; any, if given the right conditions, can become major and deadly. Neither can Barbados drop its guard because of reduced budgets at several levels of government and private sector economy.?? For, hurricanes are not controlled by our budgets; and will not, therefore, go away because there is less money to spend on their preparation.

This is why Government is working assiduously to ensure the safety of its residents and is helping them to prepare for the inevitable, particularly, as we are still in that three-month period of the hurricane season when activity typically peaks.

Despite the fallout from financial failure in world economy, the Barbados Government is still adequately financially prepared to keep running in the face of disaster. In the wake of a destructive storm or hurricane, Government has the funds to run emergency services and sheltering, clear debris from roads, restore utilities and purchase necessary emergency supplies.

Even so, Government’s focused and detailed emergency plan cannot work without your participation.?? First-responder agencies must make sure that proper programmes are in place. Don’t take your safety for granted; get out of harm’s way if you live in a flood-prone area.

You need to know how to prepare; where you will go if evacuating and how to get there.?? Waiting for the hurricane to get here could jeopardise your safety.?? Know where shelters are and which ones are open.

Do you know where you will go if ordered to leave a flood-prone or storm surge area? Do you know what you will take with you? Do you have at least seven days’ worth of supplies and medication packed and accessible?

Barbados faces a big challenge in keeping citizens aware and prepared to respond because of the culture of complacency, which has become evident in the absence of recent significant hurricane impact on the island.

But, a word to the wise! Do not ignore the effects of Hurricane Ivan on Grenada and Barbados in 2004. Considered the worst hurricane in Grenada in nearly 50 years, since Janet in 1955, Ivan killed 39 people, ravaged the island for a damage total of US$1.1 billion, left about 18,000 people homeless having destroyed 30 percent of the houses and ruining 14,000 homes. More than 1,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters in the nation; some shelters were damaged during the hurricane forcing the evacuees to go elsewhere. Still, overall, the Grenadian population is said to have responded little to the official advisories and recommendations.?? This potentially contributed to Grenada’s death toll.

In Barbados, officials closed schools and government buildings and prepared shelters prior to Ivan making landfall. And to minimise danger, the power grid was shut down, but not before the winds had left most of the island without electricity.?? Nevertheless, a total of 531 houses were damaged, of which 43 were completely destroyed. One death was reported and Barbados’ devastation was estimated at over US$5 million.

And last September 22 was the 54th birthday of Hurricane Janet, said to be the most powerful hurricane of the 1955 Atlantic season. Janet slammed Barbados with 120 mph winds, killing 38 people, rendering more than 29,000 persons homeless, almost 4,000 houses permanently destroyed and just over 4,200 badly damaged and uninhabitable.??

It is therefore crucial that people stay tuned to local news whenever severe weather threatens. Know how to secure your home; know where you will go; leave as early as possible to avoid traffic jams and being stranded on the road when the hurricane hits land; but, more importantly, residents should try to leave during a Hurricane Watch, since the time between this and a Hurricane Warning could be as short as six hours.

It is also advisable to know how you will get where you are going; drive yourself or make prior arrangements with friends and family. Government buses and other public transportation will run routes until it is unsafe to travel.

As a family, gather water and food, talk with children about safe rooms and staying indoors so that they will understand what is happening with the weather.?? Take stock of other items including batteries, search lights and lanterns.

Although Government is helping citizens prepare and find safe shelter, the responsibility for hurricane preparation rests with individuals and their families or caregivers.

Our most vulnerable citizens – residents with special needs, the elderly, the homeless, the young and those without transportation – require extra attention for their protection during hurricanes.?? Thus, planning for their secure shelter, needs to happen now. You can help them by looking around your neighbourhood, workplace and church, and reaching out to lend a helping hand. Offer services such as host homes and provide survival kit items for people who have special needs.??

For people staying at home, the selection may include a one-week?? supply of food that requires no cooking and fluids to drink; a non-electric can opener; a portable radio, flashlights, lanterns and extra batteries; infant and child necessities; personal hygiene items; clean storage containers for water; a cooler and ice and a first aid kit.

Here is some of what you may take to a shelter: medications; non-perishable foods, especially if diet is restricted; several gallons of drinking liquids; bedding for a small space; any infant or child essentials; flashlight and portable radio with batteries; personal hygiene items; change of clothes; quiet games, toys and reading materials; important documents, valid ID and cash.

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