We failed to prepare for the big one
The prime minister has just announced the creation of the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, in part to aid in disaster preparedness.
The question is, why?
Isn’t that what NEMA was tasked to do? What skills or experience does the new minister have that qualify him for this role?
As a people, it is time to be honest with ourselves or we would find history repeating itself.
The problem is that Bahamians are afraid to hear the truth. We keep hearing that we were defenseless against this storm, but that is not the whole truth.
The truth is that hurricane season is an annual event. Many islands have been devastated in varying degrees by hurricanes during our history, but we simply did not use those opportunities to prepare properly for the ‘big one’.
Proper planning has to include taking worst-case scenarios into consideration.
Consider that even though a nuclear war has not taken place, nations of the world with such arsenal have already invested in measures to minimize – since they cannot eliminate – the effects of such an event. That is the purpose of strategic planning.
So, if we were to be honest, from a purely logical standpoint, the worst-case scenario related to a hurricane in these islands is total devastation.
The question then becomes how do we respond if such an event occurs?
It is clear that our nation’s investment in and NEMA’s response to the immediate aftermath reveal the level of preparation that came out of pondering such a question.
To the casual observer, there was an obvious disparity between our nation’s immediate response and that of foreign entities.
Compounding the devastation and early recovery efforts were the twin problems of illegal immigration and substandard construction in shantytowns.
If either previous or present government had simply enforced our laws regarding immigration and construction, then the loss of life and destruction of property would have been significantly less. That’s the simple truth.
To that end, there are several additional points I would like to make.
Firstly, it would be unwise not to exploit the opportunity to create networks with many of the disaster relief organizations who demonstrated professionalism and efficiency in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
All NEMA, RBDF officers, police officers and those involved in the new ministry that was formed, should be placed on a roster to have three-month rotations as volunteers with disaster relief organizations in different parts of the world to get hands-on experience.
In times of crisis, theory cannot substitute practical experience.
Next, investment has to be made in acquiring equipment that would aid in surveillance or delivery of disaster relief in such events. I am uncertain as to whether or not the RBDF or RBPF even has or uses drones for aerial surveillance, but they should.
No airport should be constructed at or below sea level because of the potential for flooding, since it obviously impedes efforts for evacuation or bringing in urgent supplies after a storm.
Enforcement of the current building code with the necessary upgrades should be made during reconstruction. Greater regulation of the construction industry is an absolute necessity. Too many take shortcuts to save costs during construction, potentially endangering the lives of homeowners and rescuers in a disaster.
A national swimming program should be implemented for every child above five years of age, if one does not exist.
A female’s hair cannot be an impediment to learning a lifesaving skill.
One can only wonder how many may have drowned because they could not swim or tread water.
In addition, all homes with disabled persons or young children should have flotation devices in case of the need to evacuate flooded areas. Parents struggling to escape floodwaters with babies in their arms is unacceptable. Of course, more thoughts can be added to this list, but this is somewhere to start.
If we take the time to be honest with ourselves, we will realize that, in part, we are experiencing the truth of that old adage that those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail.