Hurricane Dean tests readiness

Cayman Islands emergency management officials were generally pleased with the country’s response to the first major threat of the 2007 hurricane season.

Hurricane Dean tested the country�s readiness. Photo: File

Hurricane Dean tested the countrys readiness. Photo: File

But Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Barbara Carby said there are some areas, particularly involving communications, that still need some work.

‘Even though (Hurricane) Dean was a major threat, we’ve got September ahead of us,’ Ms Carby said. ‘We actually are still in the peak of the hurricane season, so we really can’t relax our guard.’

In most cases, Ms Carby said vital information was communicated to local residents in a timely fashion. However, she said that’s not the only area where efficient timely communications were needed during the storm.

‘You have the media, you have the emergency management personnel, you have security personnel, elected representatives, policy-makers, you have an international audience as well,’ Ms Carby said. ‘And all of them don’t need the same information.’

‘But all of them do need information promptly.’

For instance, in certain cases Ms Carby said liaisons with the private sector could have been more efficient. She said a standardised method of information management was critical in learning lessons from the storm.

‘That would make compilation and data analysis much, much easier,’ she said.

Emergency managers met Thursday afternoon to discuss several issues regarding emergency response.

Success stories

Ms Carby said emergency personnel including fire, police and ambulance services were very thorough in their preparations. She also congratulated those who stayed here through the storm on their readiness.

‘The public took it very seriously and made their preparations,’ she said.

Lines at grocery stores and gas stations were long. Along West Bay road Sunday, the cue at the Esso station stretched out into the street. But Ms Carby said there were no major incidents or shortages and all seemed orderly.

Also, she said Cayman Airways and other airlines were very efficient in moving people off Grand Cayman and away from Little Cayman, which was evacuated ahead of the storm, as well as those who wished to leave Cayman Brac.

‘The end result was most of the visitors were able to leave,’ Ms Carby said.

All roads on Grand Cayman, save sections of South Sound which sustained some damage, were reopened by Tuesday afternoon…about 24 hours after curfew was lifted and the worst of the storm had passed.

The central emergency operations station at fire service headquarters opened as scheduled Saturday and remained with full power and communications throughout the storm.

Shelters easily handled those who needed to move away from their homes to seek safety. National Hurricane Committee Chairman Donovan Ebanks said government-provided shelters were less than half full at the storm’s height.

Communications

Internal and media communications were two areas in which Ms Carby said a standardised reporting system would help the island better prepare for the next storm.

Despite those issues, cell phones were not a problem with both major providers maintaining service throughout Dean’s arrival. At one point, the BlackBerry system went down, but Ms Carby said that was quickly restored.

Local media also kept a close eye on weather conditions. Radio Cayman did news broadcasts every half hour throughout the storm. CITN Television was also able to stay on the air and provide live broadcasts.

The Caymanian Compass provided frequent website updates for readers at www.caycompass.com

A study of website hits shows that some of the stories on caycompass.com received an increase in views of more than 100 per cent. Traffic to the website was double that of other weekends.

The Caymanian Compass newspaper service was not interrupted by the storm.

There were complaints from the public this week about the lack of international media coverage as Dean swept past Jamaica and turned its eye on Cayman.

One journalist from the Associated Press was spotted wandering the streets of George Town Sunday night, but it’s believed no international broadcast media were here during the storm.

Local reporters, including Compass staffers, provided reports for the international media including BBC Caribbean, Irish public radio, Canadian television, the Associated Press and other media.

Mr. Ebanks also made some appearances on the Weather Channel in the early hours of Monday morning.

Public Safety

Police and fire crews both reported that a full compliment of staff reported for duty on Sunday. Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan said just a few officers called in sick, and a few others who were sick reported for duty anyway.

Standard police patrol cars were placed in a safe location on high ground in George Town. Officers responded to calls in high profile Jeeps in the hours just before and after the storm. There were no reports of either police cars or fire vehicles being seriously damaged.

No major injuries or fires were reported to 9-1-1, although fire crews were forced to respond to the Savannah Gully after it overflowed.

One man in West Bay who went out twice during the storm was arrested for breaking curfew. Many cars and pedestrians were spotted out on the streets Monday morning just before the storm’s height, but police said no one else was taken into custody.

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