The Month of May has been declared National Disaster Preparedness Month and it is being observed under the theme, “We are all NEMA Stronger than Ever”.
As a very active hurricane season is being forecasted for this year, the government of The Bahamas, via the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction and the National Management Emergency Agency, (NEMA), is urging Bahamians to take proactive steps to mitigate disastrous results as a result of lack of preparedness. The theme is centred on the concept that everyone, including the government, citizens, businesses, religious institutions and civic organizations, has a role to play in disaster preparation. The month of May was chosen because June 1 marks the official start of the annual Atlantic Hurricane Season that officially ends November 30. A special focus is on the hazards that mostly affect the country, which are those associated with tropical cyclones (tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes). These hazards include storm surges, flooding, inland flooding from heavy rains, destructive winds, tornadoes, and high turf and rip currents. Accordingly, officials believe the month of May is an opportune time to bring attention to making preparations for the season.
During a virtual press briefing held on Sunday, 2nd May at the NEMA headquarters on Gladstone Road, Minister of State in the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, the Hon. Pakeshia Parker-Edgecombe urged the public to commence preparations for the hurricanes ahead of the opening of the season. She said that this is all part of the government’s objective to ‘mitigate or lessen’ the degree of risk in the country and to provide necessary support to prepare and rebuild communities in the face of a disaster.
“While disasters or their impact cannot be prevented, it is imperative that we arm ourselves with the ability to effectively manage disasters,” said the Minister of State. “Consequently, when the Government of The Bahamas enacted the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act in 2006, it adopted the Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) Strategy.” This strategy, she explained is an integrated approach to disaster management that encompasses the management of all hazards through all phases of the disaster management cycle – namely, prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation. The Minister of State said that it is critical that each Bahamian and resident take the necessary precautions now in the event that a storm hits during hurricane season.
“Make sure you have a plan as to where you and your family will stay if a storm threatens. If your home is in a low-lying area or on the coast, it is recommended that you do not stay there. Instead, plan to stay with a family member or a close friend who has appropriate accommodations in an appropriate place,” said Mrs. Parker-Edgecombe. “If it is not possible, you can stay at one of the Government- approved shelters, which we will ensure are ready and able to assist those in need.”
She pointed out that due to the pandemic, the government has taken into consideration the population density of each shelter and will ensure that all public health COVID-19 protocols are followed at each activated location.
She also encouraged Bahamians and residents to be well-stocked with emergency supplies such as batteries, a radio and flashlights, face masks and sanitizers and adequate supply of non-perishable food items and water. Director of NEMA, Captain Stephen Russell said several initiatives have been taken during the past year to strengthen the role that NEMA plays, including the tweaking of the National Disaster Plan and fine-tuning training facilitated by NEMA with agency partners, including the Caribbean, United States, The Pacific Centre, and the Pan American Health Organization and other agencies. He also urged Bahamians and residents to be prepared.
“Bahamas, let’s not forget the impact of hurricane Dorian in 2019, which resulted in an unprecedented impact on the country’s resources at all levels,” said Captain Russell. “The storm also left, in its wake, lives lost and an estimated $3.4 billion in losses and damages. Captain Russell also gave an overview of the state of readiness of various ministries and departments including: The Ministry of Public Works (with responsibility for infrastructural aspects of disaster management); Water and Sewerage Corporation (Water security and pumping of sewerage); Department of Social Services (Shelter readiness); Bahamas Power and Light (BPL); Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC); ALIV; and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
Several activities and events are also being planned to highlight the month, including: A comprehensive exhibition, which will be mounted on the grounds of NEMA highlighting partners and their role in disaster management; a high school digital essay and art competition and a national day of prayer, scheduled for Sunday, 30th May.