Hurricane exercise tests preparedness

A full-scale national hurricane emergency exercise took place at the George Town Fire Station Thursday in which responders prepared for a virtual category 5 hurricane. 

Under the tabletop exercise scenario, “Hurricane Near,” packing winds of up to 200 mph, was hitting Cayman, with floodwaters rising in Cumber Avenue, Windsor Park, Randyke Gardens and other low-lying areas. Dispatchers were calling for evacuation, firefighters were rescuing a stranded family, East End shelter generators were fried and downed electrical wires were sending sparks shooting through the shelter bathrooms. 

The Caribbean hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30 but hurricanes are not evenly distributed across the region during this time, and occasionally hurricanes can form outside of these dates. 

The hurricane exercise was designed to refresh familiarity with the National Hurricane Plan for response teams, and to test the entities in various scenarios to ensure they have their preparation plans, programs and gear ready if a hurricane hits. 

“The exercise is very useful because we get to find out the things that would cause issues before an event happens [and] it gives us an opportunity to resolve them, so that in a real event, hopefully, we won’t have these issues,” said McCleary Frederick, director of Hazard Management, Cayman Islands.  

“It also gives an opportunity for responders to practice what their responsibilities are. That way, they know what to do without having to refer to a manual or anything else.”  

He added, “We will always have kinks with communication, equipment and so forth [but] the benefit of doing the exercise is to work out some of those kinks … If there is an event that we have to respond to, everyone would know their roles and be able to respond accordingly.”
Updates on a hurricane’s status will be given through as many media outlets as possible: radio, television, websites, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and all other means in which they can send the message out, Mr. Frederick said. 

In charge of radio operations, officer Bobeth O’Garro said Cadet Corps members form the team who will take calls and disseminate information to all the other entities. “If all the computer equipment gets broken, we have various ways of communicating with other entities, such as by radio, text or phones,” Ms. O’Garro said. 

At the Cayman Islands Red Cross on Thursday, volunteers coordinated the various hurricane shelters and provided updates. Representatives from the district shelters simulated an emergency. Each district shelter had to report how many people were in the shelter, how the shelter was holding up and whether they were ready for people coming in. 

The Red Cross acts as first aid providers at the shelters, and its building is a hurricane shelter, said Marsha Thompson, shelter manager for the Red Cross. 

Teresita Ebanks, Davor Bonia, Andy White with radio, Natalie Williams and Wilston Bennett check equipment at the Hurricane Emergency Operations Centre on Thursday during an emergency exercise. – Photo: Jewel Levy