National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Captain Stephen Russell said yesterday that COVID-19 delayed the development of a more comprehensive hurricane response plan.
His comments came after Scott Kuykendall, disaster management specialist at the Pacific Disaster Centre (PDC), revealed that roughly 70 percent of New Providence could flood with storm surge in a Category 5 hurricane.
Russell said the government commissioned PDC to conduct baseline assessments for all islands in The Bahamas.
“We asked PDC to do a baseline assessment for it,” he said.
“That has been delayed because of COVID-19 and their inability to travel to The Bahamas or make contact with key partners in The Bahamas as they wished. They are still getting data from the Family Islands.
“Even though they have the part of the document for New Providence, that’s not the complete package because the idea behind the assessment was that they’re supposed to make contact with every government sector to see how they’re planning.”
He added, “When they present the findings to us, we will review it and see how we can implement or enhance our plan to respond to a Category 5 impact to The Bahamas. But allow us some time to really analyze it.”
Kuykendall presented the data during a Bahamas Strong Alliance webinar last week.
He said a plan for such a scenario must take into account a number of factors, including an evacuation plan for New Providence, dedicated amounts of shelter space, food and water supply, and the continuance of government. He also noted that Family Islands unaffected by the storm would have to ensure they have at least 72 hours worth of necessities in the event that New Providence, where most goods are shipped to the islands from, is severely impacted.
Russell said yesterday that there must be a collective discussion on how to respond to such an event.
“It was mentioned that we need to consider if three-quarters of New Providence is likely to be impacted by surge up to almost 20 feet, what do we do with 260,000 persons on [the island],” he said.
“That calls for a collective discussion as to how we will respond to it. We have some ideas, but I’m not just going to shoot things to you right now off the cuff.
“We will prepare and present a comprehensive plan as to how we respond to a Category 5 storm impacting The Bahamas.”
However, while he acknowledged that the complete plan will take longer to complete, Russell said NEMA is collaborating with the Meteorological Department and the Bahamas National Geographic Information Systems (BNGIS) to determine a response plan for a Category 5 storm in New Providence.
He said he hopes to have that completed within two weeks in anticipation of a number of systems currently traveling in the Atlantic.
“…In terms of a timeline, you can probably give us a week because now that they had released that, we now have to focus on that particular scenario as was presented. And we hope to have some concrete plans of action, particularly as we have two systems now….that can possibly impact The Bahamas between now and the next seven to 10 days or two weeks, he said.
“So, God forbid that type of scenario presents itself to us, we would have to give some clear instructions to the Bahamian public in a timely manner.”