The National Emergency Management Agency and The Bahamas Red Cross Society held a virtual Mass Fatality Management Conclave to discuss improving protocols for the proper handling of the deceased, following major disasters. The caucus was held January 26 to 28, 2021, during which approximately 80 participants logged on daily to the Zoom link for various presentations and group workshop exercises. The Hon. Iram Lewis, Minister of State for the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction in delivering opening remarks underscored the importance of such a conclave, against the backdrop of Hurricane Dorian, which left an official death toll of 74 and hundreds missing.
“We gather today cognizant of the need to ensure that preparedness and planning remain at the forefront of our disaster management agenda,” Mr. Lewis told his virtual audience.
“When planning for and responding to mass fatality events, it is the responsibility of emergency managers, healthcare, and fatality management professionals to ensure the respectful and orderly management of deceased persons,” Mr. Lewis said. On September 1 st , 2019, Hurricane Dorian devastated the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco. The Category 5 storm was a record for The Bahamas and the Atlantic Basin.
“The impacts of this unprecedented hurricane are forever ingrained in Bahamian history,” including the “loss of lives — some of whom were officially declared dead and others who remain missing or not identified,” Mr. Lewis said. He added: “Dorian has provided us with many lessons as we continue to forge our steps along the path of sustainability.”
The conclave attracted government and key stakeholders directly and indirectly involved in the recovery, transportation, security and burial of deceased bodies during the aftermath of an event that resulted in mass fatalities in The Bahamas.
The purpose of the conclave was for participants, through working groups, to produce proposal documents for adoption into the National Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan, and legislation by May 2022.
“The role of non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross remains crucial and beneficial to our vision of community resilience and risk management. Our continued cooperation and collaboration are essential as we seek to prepare for, mitigate against, respond to and recover from all emergencies, disasters, and catastrophes,” Mr. Lewis said.
“The Bahamas Red Cross Society, alongside the National Emergency Management Agency, saw it necessary to host a conclave of this nature so as to prompt the conversation between stakeholders regarding Mass Fatality Management in The Bahamas,” said Sean Brennen, Director General, Bahamas Red Cross Society. In closing out the conclave, Captain Stephen Russell, Director of NEMA shed light on the way forward.
“These were three rich days of exchange of information, of clear plans of the roles of all key stakeholders moving forward in dealing with mass casualty events that might occur anywhere in sectors of The Bahamas,” he said. A Draft Standard Operating Procedures document will be finalized outlining the roles of all relevant agencies in such a scenario, to include evacuation from impacted areas, and planning for prolonged operations, among other things.