Emergency services and government heads have been urged to ensure their disaster plans are finalised in anticipation of an active hurricane season.
Key figures, including Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Commissioner David Baines, airports authority boss Kerith McCoy and the heads of every government department, were briefed Monday on the latest forecasts for the season, which officially began Saturday, 1 June.
“You have heard from the experts that they are expecting a very busy hurricane season and four major storms that could come very close to us,” Cayman Islands Deputy Governor Franz Manderson told them. “As you all know, it only takes one and we are in a bad situation.”
He said Hurricane Ivan, which hit Grand Cayman in September 2004, was still fresh in the minds of those who had lived through it. But he warned there were a new generation of Caymanians and foreign workers who had no real recollection of Ivan. And he cautioned that a storm of similar or greater magnitude to Ivan could be even more devastating.
He said Fred Sambula, director general of the Cayman Islands National Weather Service, had told a cautionary tale of what may have happened if Ivan had hit at high tide.
“He said in addition to a large number of deaths we would all be living on a little island called West Bay. It really made me understand very clearly that Ivan was not the worst,” Mr. Manderson said. “It can be much worse than Ivan. We hope that doesn’t happen, but it is our job to make sure we are prepared. In government, we are expected to take the lead. For emergency services, essential services, we don’t get the time off. We have to be ready for the storm.
“I want us to be as prepared as possible, so if you do get called back in during hurricane season we will be totally up to speed as to what to do.”
Mr. Manderson was speaking as the National Hazard Management Council met to begin a two-day run through of the Cayman Islands’ coordinated response plan in the event of a hurricane. Emergency services and departments were asked to outline how they would respond to a hypothetical storm – Hurricane Taylor – and to work through what action they would take before, during and after the disaster.
A report on the exercise is expected to be released later this week.
During Monday’s briefing, Chief Meteorologist John Tibbetts warned that forecasters were predicting a 50 per cent chance that a major storm would hit the Caribbean this season – up from around 30 per cent in a typical year.
Summarising forecast data from various sources, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Colorado State University in the US, he said: “The predictions vary from about 14 named storms to about 18 named storms.
“The number of hurricanes is around nine. You will notice something a bit more concerning for me and that is they have got four major hurricanes forecast for the season as opposed to the two we ended up with last year, meaning that we could be seeing some real nasty hurricanes …”
He said the local weather service would have an extra tool in its arsenal this year, with the new Doppler radar weather system up and running. He said forecasters were already able to access data from the facility in East End and the public would soon be able to view graphics online.
Civil Service Chief Officer Gloria McField reminded the group of their responsibility to produce plans to ensure the continuation of key services before, during and after a hurricane. She said most had provided detailed plans, but a few were still outstanding.
“The concern that we have is there are still some key agencies that are responsible for hurricane response that have not yet submitted. These agencies include agencies that take a role in evacuation, first responders as well as agencies responsible for health and safety,” she added.