The National Emergency Agency (NEMA) conducted a full-scale tabletop virtual disaster response exercise throughout The Bahamas dubbed, “Restore Island Cays” held September 1-2, 2020. And according to the facilitators, the exercise was successes due to the agency examining new tools to implement in order to better respond to a hurricane or any disaster, natural or manmade. Facilitators were NEMA and its International partners from the United States Northern Command, the Pacific Disaster Centre in Hawaii, the United States Coast Guard and the United States Embassy in Nassau.
The exercise involved participants from the Family Islands inclusive of Island Administrators, other Local Government representatives, members of the disaster consultative committees and the 14 Emergency Support Function (ESFs) groupings who were also trained in how to test and use various virtual platforms during an emergency.
The objectives of the exercise were to:
Evaluate the national response to a hurricane led by NEMA;
Evaluate the existing procedures and processes and further understand the roles,
responsibilities and authorities involved in disaster response; and,
Exercise, evaluate and provide recommendations where necessary for Family Islands
Administrators and respective District Disaster Consultative Committees.
The exercise involved “Category 5 Hurricane Rich” that threatened the archipelago, beginning from the Southeast Bahamas. The National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) was fully activated for effective monitoring and coordination. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, protocols and precautionary measures were adhered to in the operations centre. Those included wearing of masks, hand sanitization and social distancing.
Family Island participants and other disaster committee members tuned in via zoom link, which was one of the main platforms used to execute the exercise. Scenarios were created to force administrators to use alternative means of communication. Also tested were evacuation procedures, different methods of communication and accessing the online Situation Report entry platform. During the After Action Review (AAR) session, Captain Stephen Russell, Director of NEMA thanked participants for their involvement in the exercise, which he regards as a “new concept” of virtual communication platforms.
“It is something we have to perfect particularly in the COVID-19 pandemic environment,” he said, adding that testing of the virtual platform will be conducted regularly to test efficiency. Jon Smart, Division Chief of International Partnerships, USNORTHCOM, who also provided feedback during the AAR, thanked NEMA for conducting a successful exercise and meeting the expectations, even in less ideal circumstances. He observed that NEMA examined the new tools and tested processes in order to better respond to a hurricane. The key is to address those issues and apply the lessons learnt, going forward. Bahamas Government’s Department of Digitization and Transformation provided the equipment for use in the NEOC, which allowed for connections with the Family Islands.
Global Support and Development, a US Based company that specializes in designing and implementing health and development programmes, capacity building, and monitoring and evaluation, provided technical support to NEMA.