Evacuation refusal means arrest

People who refuse to leave unsafe areas when evacuation is ordered during a hurricane will be arrested.

Donovan Ebanks

National Hurricane Committee Chairman Donovan Ebanks. Photo: File

That’s just one of the provisions spelled out in the evacuation portion of the new Cayman Islands Hurricane Plan.

The procedures and policies concerning evacuations in advance of approaching hurricanes have been refined in the 2006 National Hurricane Plan and include such elements as developing and maintaining a manifest of passengers and flight numbers of those being evacuated.

The Hurricane Plan also provides for mandatory evacuation of residents or people residing or staying in areas declared unsafe.

The revamped plan, which was released to the media on Tuesday, takes into account many of the lessons learned through the Hurricane Ivan experience.

‘[The plan] looks to address various shortcomings that Ivan exposed,’ said National Hurricane Committee Chairman Donovan Ebanks. ‘It still doesn’t mean it’s a foolproof plan… but it brings it up to addressing the major shortcomings.’

One of those shortcomings as it relates to evacuations concerned not knowing who had left the island before and after Ivan hit, and where they had gone.

‘It’s very important to know who has left the island so we don’t get in a situation where we’re searching for someone,’ Mr. Ebanks said.

The responsibility for preparing the list will fall to the chairperson of the Evacuation Committee, who is the Director General of Civil Aviation Richard Smith.

The Committee member representing Cayman Airways, the CEO of the Cayman Islands Airport Authority and the Director of Tourism will all assist with the effort.

The new Joint Communication Services will receive a copy of the manifests of all flights leaving the Cayman Islands, including charter flights, and will make sure they are made available in Miami through the appropriate channels.

While some people will evacuate the island, others will have to evacuate their premises for other shelter.

National Hurricane Committee member and chairman of the National Emergency Management Agency Kirkland Nixon said the word evacuation was really not appropriate in the case for those staying on the island for a hurricane because it could be confused with those who left the island.

‘We should call it ‘moving to a place of safety’,’ he said.

Under the Emergency Powers Law, the Governor may declare – after a recommendation from the Chairperson of the National Hurricane Committee, who will have consulted with other members of the Committee and weather officials – certain areas of the country unsafe and order the evacuation of those areas. Persons failing to evacuate as ordered would face arrest, possible conviction and penalties.

The designation of unsafe areas will be made easier when a new storm surge model that will identify flood zones is completed by the end of this year.

‘The storm surge model will enable us to predict the impact of a storm heading for us,’ said Mr. Ebanks.

The storm surge model will take into consideration such factors as the hurricane’s strength, the direction it is coming, its forward speed and the tide levels at the time it is expected to pass the island.

Only a small portion of people will be able to evacuate the island in approach of a hurricane (a little more than 2,000 evacuated prior to Hurricane Ivan) and there are only about 4,000 spots available at Grand Cayman’s hurricane shelters. Others will have to find safe shelter elsewhere.

Chief Meteorologist Fred Sambula said it is important to know what safe shelter is in response to the threat. He noted that a person could still drown in a strong building that is only one storey and subjected to storm surge, while someone might be safe in a strong two-storey building, even if it were close to the shore.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police will handle the communication of evacuation orders for those in affected areas on Grand Cayman by arranging for radio and television broadcasts, through loud hailers and other appropriate means.

The Evacuation Committee will also coordinate transportation of tourist and non-resident evacuees to the airport; provide traffic control and security on all routes to the airport; and help assist with arrangements and accommodation for those waiting to evacuate.

Mr. Ebanks said Chief Immigration Office Franz Manderson has been in contact with the United States Immigration and Naturalisation Service to facilitate the evacuation of those with passport issues, such as newborn babies.

Mr. Ebanks said the National Hurricane Committee would try to communicate the need for people to keep passports with them and dry during a hurricane so that there are fewer passport issues for those trying to leave the island afterwards.