Cayman ready for disaster

The government launched a new organisation Wednesday to help the Cayman Islands prepare, respond and recover from a variety of disasters.

‘Today is a special occasion,’ said Deputy Chief Secretary and Chairman of the Hazard Management Cayman Islands Donovan Ebanks. ‘It’s an occasion we think will go down in our history as significant in improving the safety and security of these islands.’

Originally slated to be called the National Emergency Management Agency, the name Hazard Management Cayman Islands was chosen instead because the organisation will address a wide variety of risks and a range of responses.

With a much broader scope than hurricane management, HAZ-MAN CI will also look at risks such as earthquakes, tsunamis, aircraft crashes, acts of terrorism, explosions and other hazards; both natural and manmade.

Before creating a national hazard management plan, the organisation will first conduct a risk assessment.

HAZ-MAN CI Director Barbara Carby said that assessment was scheduled to begin sometime in the new financial year, which begins in July. She estimated the assessment – which will require some off-island assistance to do – would talk four to five months to complete.

Governor Stuart Jack noted that even though 2006 was an eventless hurricane season and everyone hopes that trend will continue, the Cayman Islands must be prepared for all contingences.

He noted that not only did the Cayman Islands need to have the best hurricane plan possible and to constantly update and improve that plan, but that it also had to prepare for all kinds of disasters, be they natural or manmade.

HAZ-MAN CI will not only create a plan for preparing for disaster, but also for responding and recovering from disasters.

The plan will also look at things like the building codes.

‘We can reduce the impact of a hurricane on us if we think about how and where we build our houses,’ he said.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts praised HAZ-MAN CI’s predecessor – the National Hurricane Committee – as an excellently performing agency but said an organisation with a wider scope was needed.

‘As we know, [the National Hurricane Committee] deals only with hurricanes, which while extremely important, doesn’t address the wide range of hazards that could come our way,’ he said.

Mrs. Carby, who arrived here last year after filling a similar position in Jamaica, said she was pleased the Cayman Islands decided to take the steps it did in forming HAZ-MAN CI.

‘Congratulations for having the vision, and not only the vision, but having it come true,’ she said.

Mrs. Carby said the risk assessment was necessary to put the various risks in order of probability.

‘Certainly what we want to do when we draw up a list of priorities is to have them right,’ she said.

Although the risk assessment will form a key part of the future planning of HAZ-MAN, it does not mean the organisation can not be active until the assessment is complete.

‘We’ll be looking to develop a comprehensive public awareness campaign,’ said Mrs. Carby, noting that the campaign would involve the entire community from businesses right on down to the individual.

The campaign would probably include advertising in the media, schools competitions, community meetings and training videos.

‘Risk management is really all about teamwork,’ she said. ‘A team has many players, including a captain, players and a bench.

‘We hope to build a team and a bench capable of taking the Cayman Islands forward in terms of risk management.’

Mr. Ebanks took the aspiration a step further.

‘I hope we can work toward making the Cayman Islands the most resilient jurisdiction in the Caribbean, regardless of the risks we face,’ he said.

Noting that hurricanes were the biggest threat Cayman faced every year, Mrs. Carby noted that everyone hoped the 2007 hurricane season mirrored the uneventful one last year.

‘I would not bet on it,’ she said.