Like some among us, we tend to think that, as the expression goes, ‘God is a
Bajan', and we will be spared again if and when a hurricane or other natural disaster occurs.
Remember Tropical Storm Tomas and how it caught so many of us off guard; or even Hurricane Ivan that passed through back in September 2004, and we didn't even feel the full extent of its wrath.
So, what will it take for Barbadians to get serious? Another Tropical Storm, a Category 2 hurricane or maybe some other natural disaster? It's important that regardless of the favourable predictions for this hurricane season, that we need to take it seriously and prepare for any eventuality. Hence, it's always wise for families to have a contingency plan prior to an emergency, so that they would have sufficient time for planning and determining their next steps.
Programme Officer at the Department of Emergency Management (DEM), Danielle Skeete, stated that this planning process should, identify any structural deficiencies in the home and immediate environment, and have them remedied.
"There are quite a few things that are necessary for this plan to work. First of all, you need to detail those hazards to which your household is prone. For example, if you live in an area which is prone to flooding, landslides, high winds or earthquakes, then your plan could be more effective.
"So, after you have identified your risks, you then prepare a detailed plan of action for each hazard. In the case of flooding, one may want to install sandbags or other flood barriers such as a retaining wall as a precaution; and in the event of an earthquake or high winds one would want to secure objects that could fall and injure family members. Additionally, if feasible, you may want to install storm shutters for the protection of your windows and glass doors."
Noting that it was critical for persons to pinpoint in their homes the location of shut off valves for water, electricity and gas mains, Mrs. Skeete pointed out that immediately following an emergency, such as a storm or a hurricane, there might be downed electrical wires and "it is, therefore, important that each family member be aware of where the main valves are," so that if they need to shut them off, they could.
Householders are also encouraged to note the location of important documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies and title deeds.
"You need to have these official papers in a secured place, preferably some place that is waterproof and even fire-proof. And, I say that it's important for all family members to know where this is. You might be the head of a household, but you might not be home at the time of the flood; therefore, whoever else is at home should know the location so that in the event they have to leave, they could do so with the relevant documents. Also importantly, family members need to have and agree to an evacuation plan, should they need to leave the premises because it is no longer safe."
In relation to an evacuation plan, the Programme Officer stated that they were critical in the event that "families are not in the same location, whether at home, school or work." Hence, she underscored that individuals should have a predetermined site where family members would eventually meet after an emergency.
"What I would say is that your basic evacuation plan should remain constant. For instance, your closest emergency shelter or your family's meeting point after an event should be the same to avoid any confusion. The only reason you should not meet at one of these venues is if it is severely damaged as a result of a hazard impact. However, what changes is your evacuation routes, and, of course, this will be dependent on the hazard impact.
"Remember that your evacuation route should be continuous and unobstructed, from your point of origin to your place of safety. So, for example, you may have a basic evacuation route that you are going to use, but for some reason it may be blocked. It may be a fire blocking the door that you usually use or something like that. Therefore, if we know that we are going to meet at Granny's house in the event that something goes wrong, then the family should know this."
In the event of an evacuation where families are likely to be away from their dwelling for more than 24 hours, it is recommended that they travel with a survival kit. The DEM Officer was quick to point out that the kit should contain supplies for at least three days, and this should include non-perishable food items.
"Water, at least two to six litres per person, per day, and this is obviously for cooking purposes, drinking and hygiene. You should also move with your first aid supplies, any medication for diabetics or those with hypertension, etc... You also would want to take with you your battery powered flashlights or torches; and, of course, always make sure that you have your important documents," she advised.
While stressing that the family emergency plan should be updated twice annually possibly at the beginning of the year and then mid-way through - the Programme Officer added that pet owners should also include their animals in their plans and this should be discussed beforehand, especially if they will be staying with a family member.
"You want to make this clear with whomever you are staying. We're coming, but we will also be bringing the puppy or whatever. And, of course, if you are moving with your pets, you need to move with supplies for them as well," Mrs. Skeete urged.
The DEM Officer has also advised Barbadians to review their plans, as this allowed for continual improvement and increased familiarity by all members of the household.
"Being prepared is key, and we have to take this exercise seriously," she cautioned.