Government building ‘ready’ for new emergency center

Cayman gets high marks on storm preparedness

The Cayman Islands gets high marks when compared to other British overseas territories when it comes to hurricane readiness.

However, U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office advisers were a bit befuddled over why Cayman has not upgraded its emergency command center since Hurricane Ivan struck nearly a decade ago.

The Grand Cayman emergency operations center during any major storm is still housed at the airport fire station, despite the fact that an open, available facility could be used on the second floor of the government administration building on Elgin Avenue.

Representatives of the U.K. foreign office, Hazard Management Cayman Islands and the government’s information services at a meeting with local press Friday agreed the new government office building – rated to withstand Category 5 storm force winds – would be the ideal local command spot for both safety and centralized services in the event of a storm.

“If you can’t build a brand new EOC [emergency operations center], look at expanding … the operational capability here [in the government administration building] … that’s something from the infrastructure I’m looking at,” said Lori Vun Kannon, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s disaster management adviser, based in Miami. “You have the opportunity to expand out with the other offices here, without having to relocate people to support that.”

At one time, there were plans to build a new storm operations center behind the AvCom building near the airport, but those plans were abandoned due to cost.

According to Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director McCleary Frederick: “HMCI has been waiting for the national emergency operations center to be moved into the government administration building, and approval has now been pending for the past four years.”

Members of the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee heard last week that the five-story government administration building is still just 65 percent occupied. When the Caymanian Compass last looked at the building’s occupancy about a year ago, it was 60 percent occupied.

High marks

Despite the lack of an emergency center upgrade, Cayman got high marks from U.K. officials during a tour of the islands last week.

“[Cayman]’s pretty solid from the development of infrastructure in place to handle a multi-hazard type of event,” said Ms Vun Kannon. “It’s very comparable to what you’d see … in the U.S. or Canada.”

Ms Von Kannon was in Cayman last week to review various aspects of Cayman’s infrastructure for various natural disasters, with a particular emphasis on hurricanes since it is the season.

“Where I’ve seen tremendous growth is probably also in the infrastructure as well, since your last direct hit,” she said, referring to Hurricane Ivan in 2004, not 2008’s Paloma. “The incident management structure in place … compared to the other territories I’ve seen, I’m not seeing the same level of dedicated work [in the other overseas territories].”

Governor’s office chief of staff Gary Benham points out that not too many overseas territories in the Caribbean or anywhere have had the benefit of the Ivan experience.

“It really was the school of hard knocks, wasn’t it?” Mr. Benham said Friday.

Ms Vun Kannon said part of the foreign office’s job is to ensure those lessons are recalled as Ivan gets farther and farther back in history.

“The one thing that we’ve all kind of been talking about is … is there issues with complacency now because there hasn’t been a direct hit?” she said. “Are people thinking that, if they survived that, they can survive anything?”