Dear Prime Minister,
I would encourage your administration to look at introducing a more robust, comprehensive and strategic national emergency preparedness plan.
While the creation of a Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction is a step in the right direction, its function described in your communication does not provide practical and direct solutions for the inefficiencies you are seeking to address.
The issues the nation faces with respect to emergency preparedness are simply the inability to protect residents and respond to and recover from disasters.
To that end, the solution is to improve those areas. In support of this, I would encourage your administration to revise the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act to strengthen NEMA’s capabilities in the areas of management, readiness, response, resources, and relief and recovery.
Management is the most important part of any operation.
NEMA must be transformed to a fully resourced government agency that is capable of overseeing the coordination and response of all departments and agencies in a national emergency.
Moreover, NEMA must be augmented by staff from all departments, agencies and organizations to ensure that we have the necessary expertise and resources available on the frontlines during disasters.
Second, maintaining a state of readiness and being able to respond to any disaster is also an important aspect of emergency management.
Incidents such as natural disasters can not be prevented but it is the responsibility of NEMA to ensure the public is at least prepared.
Those steps include the issuance of the mandatory evacuation orders, activation of government operation centers, setup of safe shelters and pre-positioning of relief supplies on any island in The Bahamas.
Public education is crucial to this process as well.
Every family in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas should be educated on safety and how to prepare for the many kinds of disasters that could occur. Education and promotion should be a national effort. In fact, I think there should be a week dedicated to emergency preparedness awareness.
An even more important aspect of emergency management is the readiness of first responders.
The availability of emergency services during or immediately after a disaster is imperative to protect life and property.
All emergency services branches (police, fire, EMS, defense, search and rescue, utilities, etc.) should be available to respond to the needs of the community during a disaster with the proper resources and equipment.
To ensure effective interoperability, a response plan should be available to guide search and rescue efforts so that the procedures, roles and responsibilities of every service is clearly defined during an emergency.
To supplement this effort, the introduction of an incident management system, advanced EM training and courses, and comprehensive scenario-based exercises for first responders should be considered to improve 24/7 readiness and response.
In order to achieve this, it is imperative for the government to invest in resources.
NEMA must have all of the resources required to function as a public safety agency for The Bahamas.
The government must invest in every island across The Bahamas to ensure every community is constructed to deal with natural disasters.
The government must invest in emergency services to ensure that first responders have adequate resources to provide search, rescue and relief services. While The Bahamas depends on the United States for these services, it should also have its own helicopters, boats and military vehicles.
Finally, the government must always assess its response/recovery effectiveness and make improvements where necessary to ensure that the country can prepare better than the last time.
While the creation of a ministry is a good step, it doesn’t provide solutions to the specific areas that need improvements.
This letter only scratches the surface in terms of ways we can improve in the area of disaster preparedness. However, these suggestions are practical steps that would ensure a safer Bahamas.
– Akeem Scott