Government and aviation industry officials in the Cayman Islands have established procedures for the orderly and safe evacuation of the Islands in the event a hurricane threatens and hits the Western Caribbean territory.
Calling on the experience thrust upon the populace of Grand Cayman by the catastrophic occurrence of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the National Evacuation Committee – consisting of representatives from the tourism and aviation sectors, as well as the Cayman Islands Governor’s Office and foreign consulates – has outlined a process for people wishing to leave the Island by aircraft.
From the first storm alert to the issue of a directive for a mass evacuation; to arriving at the airport and leaving your vehicle; to baggage handling and proceeding through immigration; to boarding your outbound plane and repeating this process with increasing numbers of people, authorities have mapped out a prepared response to help stave off the worst possible scenarios.
“Hurricane evacuations can be extremely stressful and the airports can become crowded,” says Caren Thompson-Palacio, a spokeswoman for the Cayman Islands Airports Authority. “Passengers are urged to make preparations for lengthy wait periods.”
The airports authority will implement its mass evacuation plan in response to a national directive, which requires activation by the proper authorities three days before the approach of a major storm.
First and foremost, the airports authority advises passengers to check with airlines prior to going to the airport in order to alleviate congestion and maintain a smooth flow of passengers through the facility. Passengers should confirm they have a reservation with the airline and ensure they have all necessary travel documentation at hand for all individual passengers.
Commercial and chartered aircraft will likely be making additional nonscheduled flights to help accommodate as many passengers as possible. However, there are certain guidelines that should be followed to help alleviate as much stress as feasible during the evacuation process.
Although the parking lot at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman will accommodate cars up to capacity, additional off-site parking will be made available. Once all spots are filled, departing passengers will be required to make arrangements to be dropped off at the terminal. People leaving vehicles parked on the roadside run the risk of losing possession of their vehicles.
With the expected high volume of passengers heading through the facility, the airports authority has issued plans to boost the number of employees on hand, as well as increase the volume and accessibility of amenities to thwart the likelihood of running short on supplies. Airlines will also implement early check-in processes to help minimise the number of people in the terminal at a given time. Only people whose flights are imminent will be allowed inside the terminal buildings.
“Arrangements include extra staffing, erection of tents, food and beverage stands as well as portable toilets in the parking lots to accommodate vast numbers of persons in order to prevent overcrowding of the terminal,” Ms Thompson-Palacio says. “Airlines will also implement pre-check-in processes so as to limit the number of passengers in the terminal at any one time.
“Only persons whose flights are imminent will be allowed into the terminals/departure hall, to prevent overcrowding,” she says. “In most cases, these passengers will have already undergone preliminary check in. This will incorporate a ‘feeder’ process, as flights are successively dispatched.”
It is advised that families travelling with children arrive at the airport with enough food and water to compensate for lengthy waiting periods. However, liquids other than baby food or sterilised water will not be allowed through security. The accompanying adult will be required to vouch for the foods by tasting.
As usual, checked and carry-on baggage will be subject to normal restrictions on size, weight and prohibited substances. National flag carrier Cayman Airways, as well as US domestic airlines that serve Grand Cayman, will likely add nonscheduled flights to its regular repertoire to help meet demand for the increased number of people wishing to leave the islands.
Island Air, the local fixed-base operator, will also coordinate private and chartered flights at the facility’s general aviation terminal. Those passengers, too, will be subject to outgoing immigration requirements.
During the storm, the airport will close down when local officials deem the conditions too dangerous to continue flights. When the all-clear is given by government authorities, flights will resume, bringing needed supplies in and carrying additional people out of the territory.