Rotary International held a disaster relief conference earlier this year in New Orleans to address plans for dealing with disasters similar to those that hit the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico coastlines in recent years.
The conference brought together Rotarians from several areas, including the Caribbean, along with numerous disaster relief experts.
Invited to participate from the Caribbean was District 7020 International Director and Chair for Disaster Relief, Raymond Whittaker of Grand Cayman, and District Governor Elect Richard McCombe of the Bahamas.
Having helped lead the charge in recovery in the Cayman Islands after Hurricane Ivan, where Rotary raised over US$1.2 million for the community, Mr. Whittaker was well prepared for participation in the conference and was able to share his experiences with others.
Mr. Whittaker has been charged with implementing the District Disaster Relief Plan for District 7020, which covers 67 Clubs in 10 countries consisting of 14 islands, a difficult task considering that four different languages are spoken in these islands.
The islands include the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, U. S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Haiti, St. Martin, St Maarten, Turks & Caicos, Anguilla.
One major concern addressed during the conference was communication, before, during and after a disaster. Mr. Whittaker advised that this problem has been tackled through a Rotary initiative where Rotary Zones 33 and 34 are assisting in the set up and distribution of a satellite telephone system via Global Star.
Mr. Whittaker was assigned the task of writing the protocols for such a system which led to getting agreements in place, fund raising, purchasing and implementation prior to the 2007 hurricane season. At present some 15 of these phones are being tested in District 7020 and the remainder will be distributed in Cayman at the District Conference May 1-5, 2007.
The goal is to have the entire District Disaster Relief Plan in place by May of 2008, Mr. Whittaker said. The plan as he envisions will include liaison with the various Government plans as well as other NGO’s in the islands and around the world. The Plan will be on the Rotary website and will link to many other sites which will support Disaster Relief and Recovery.