Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush and Governor Stuart Jack attended a briefing on 2009 hurricane preparedness on Wednesday.
The briefing, conducted by Hazard Management Cayman Islands deputy directors McCleary Frederick and Donald Druitt, was held in the cramped quarters of the National Emergency Operations Centre at the airport fire station.
The conversation eventually turned to the NEOC building itself, and the prospects for a new, larger facility. Plans to build a new EOC building on Agnes Way were shelved by the previous government because of budgetary constraints.
However, detailed design drawings of the proposed new building were shown to Mr. Bush, Mr. Jack and backbencher Cline Glidden Jr., as well as the media.
Mr. Druitt said the drawings were as far as the project had progressed.
‘Most of the funds for the project were removed,’ he said. ‘We only had enough to do the design.’
Mr. Glidden acknowledged that the current facilities were not ‘anywhere near ideal’ but he questioned the need to have a new EOC as big as the one designed. The proposed two-storey building would contain a little more than 12,000 square feet of space under roof.
Mr. Glidden asked if the new building would sit substantially empty except during times of potential hazard risks.
Mr. Druitt explained that the new NEOC would become the full-time offices of Emergency Communications 911, the Cayman Islands Telecommunications Office – known as OFTEL – the National Weather Service and Hazard Management Cayman, as well as serving as the NEOC in times of hazard.
Various disaster management committee clusters would organise in a 1,600 square foot room during times of hazard or potential hazard. However, Mr. Druitt said the large room could also be used as a conference/training centre for other government entities at other times.
Mr. Bush asked how much it was estimated the new facility would cost. Mr. Druitt said the original plan called for a building that would cost CI$12 million, but that OFTEL had been added to the tenant list after the initial plans, raising the building’s cost to an estimated CI$14.5 million.
Mr. Druitt said the building had been designed as small as possible given the space requirements of the tenants. He said that because the building was going to be constructed with poured concrete to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, it would not be an easy building to add on to at a later date.
‘We pretty much have to get it right from the start,’ he said.
Mr. Bush acknowledged the need for a new NEOC, but he said the government might not be able to afford it right now.
‘Maybe there should have been a little less school building [during the previous administration] and more priority to this kind of building,’ he said.
However, Mr. Bush said the country was not in a good position financially right now and the government would have to look at its finances come budget time to see if going ahead the new NEOC building was possible.
Mr. Frederick said that for the 2009 hurricane season, Grand Cayman would have 16 hurricane shelters, while Cayman Brac would have three and Little Cayman one.
‘Five shelters need to be upgraded, but we’re not sure when we’ll get the money to do that,’ he said.
Mr. Frederick also said that he expects new legislation this year to help the country deal with disaster situations. He said the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Bill (2009) was scheduled to go to Cabinet for consideration soon.
‘The legislation will allow us to do a lot of the things we need to do without evoking the Emergency Powers Act,’ he said. ‘It will allow the governor and the leader of government business to do what they need to do.’
Governor Jack said he thought the Cayman Islands had made tremendous strides in hurricane preparedness since Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004.
‘Although we have a lot more to do,’ he said. ‘But we actually have a pretty good system in place.’
Mr. Bush agreed that many lessons had been learned by the Hurricane Ivan experience by government and the public.
‘I think the public has realised they have to be prepared,’ he said. ‘There’s much more awareness on the part of the public.’
Mr. Bush said he was very pleased that Hazard Management Cayman Islands not only prepared for hurricanes, but all kinds of potential hazards.
Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush, right, discusses the possibility of a new National Emergency Operations Centre during a briefing on Cayman’s preparedness for the 2009 hurricane season. Also pictured, from left, are Permanent Secretary Carson Ebanks, and Hazard Management Deputy Director Mitigation McCleary Frederick. Photo: Alan Markoff