‘We’re ready’ says Hazard Management team after exercise
The Cayman Islands’ hurricane response team put its plan into action last week as reports came through of a category 4 storm bearing down on Grand Cayman.
The command centre buzzed with activity as an electronic message board flashed with incident reports – a potential chemical leak at the Port Authority … 12 visitors unaccounted for in West Bay … HMS Lancaster en route to provide relief.
Thankfully, the powerful Hurricane Taylor – packing winds of up to 140 miles per hour and passing within 60 miles of Grand Cayman – was not a real storm, but a scenario dreamt up for a simulation exercise.
The imagined consequences of the category 4 hurricane were designed to be as realistic as possible to test the National Hazard Management Council’s state of readiness for what is expected to be an active season.
“If a storm hits tomorrow we’ll be ready,” said deputy director of Hazard Management Omar Afflick immediately following the exercise.
The airport fire station was converted into the national emergency operations centre for the exercise, which simulated the precise action that would be taken in a genuine natural disaster.
Around 60 staff across 17 sub-committees of the council – the core of the Cayman Islands’ disaster response team – were on duty for the simulation.
Roles ranged from cadets taking calls from the public and inputting data onto electronic message boards to representatives from the governor’s office liaising with the UK over military support.
The exercise involved threat assessment as the hurricane approached, coordinating with emergency services over search and rescue operations immediately after the storm and long term planning for getting the island back to normalcy in the aftermath.
Representatives from every government department, fire service, police and the airport were involved.
Mr. Afflick said the exercise was essential to make sure everybody knew their roles in an emergency and to help iron out any flaws ahead of an actual storm.
“This is priceless,” he said. “There are new members, people in government taking new roles and responsibilities and we need to make sure everyone knows their job.
“We need to practice our plans and identify any weak areas and make sure they are applicable to the current processes within government.”
He accepted it was impossible to replicate the intensity of a genuine emergency in a training exercise. But he said the Hazard Management team had done their best to make the situation as realistic as possible.
“If a category 4 storm hits us, the damage is going to be significant, but we demonstrated we have the capacity to respond,” he said. “There needs to be tweaking in a few areas, but we have the capacity; if a storm hits tomorrow, we’ll be ready.”