Upgrading search and rescue capabilities

The Bahamas must analyze what it did well and what it did not in preparation for, and in response to, Hurricane Dorian. Following the passage of the Category 5 storm, the critical role played by the U.S. Coast Guard in relief efforts was indeed welcome, but it also exposed the inadequacies in the domestic response to such a catastrophe.

To our knowledge, the government of The Bahamas does not own a helicopter. And if it does, we’ve never seen it. The government does not own large amphibious vehicles capable of riding through floodwaters, that can rescue those trapped in homes by heavy storm surge.

The Bahamas is not wealthy and there is much to rebuild and many people to help. As an independent country, however, we must still find the resources to purchase the assets needed to mount basic rescue efforts. A nation state should not be begging for trucks to rescue people when every second is of the essence in saving lives. Our leaders should not think it acceptable to fly around in American choppers every time there is a natural disaster. We have a friendly relationship with the U.S. now, but what if that relationship changes and the U.S. says no to such a request? What would we do? Would we get on the phone and keep begging world leaders until one comes to our aid? What if no heavy equipment owners came forward? Would the rescues have taken place?

The government has spent hundreds of millions to upgrade the Royal Bahamas Defence Force fleet. It should now do an assessment to determine how much it would cost to add helicopters and amphibious vehicles. We may only be able to afford a few at a time in these hard times, but if that is the case, the strategy should be to build capacity over time.

It is the responsibility of the government of The Bahamas to protect its people. We must move away from the mindset that the Americans or British or whomever will be there to save us when natural disasters strike. The level of destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian was certainly unprecedented, but worse could be out there this hurricane season or the next. Having better rescue assets would save lives and allow the state to bring relief to its people faster and in a more coordinated manner.

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