Emergency public bulletins broadcast just before or after a natural disaster, serious public health threat or during a significant man-made disaster would have to be issued by all local broadcast license-holders, according to new legislation seeking to govern Cayman’s disaster management.
The Disaster Preparedness and Hazard Management Bill, 2016, proposes to create a national emergency management system for Cayman to enable “the government to broadcast emergency announcements” via any entity licensed by the Information and Communications Technology Authority.
Precisely how those announcements are to be handled would be governed through separate memoranda of understanding with each of the licensed broadcasters, to be drawn up when and if the enabling legislation is approved by lawmakers next month.
“No announcement shall be broadcast on the national emergency notification system unless it is in writing and approved and signed by the governor or the chairman of the management council in consultation with the director [of hazard management],” the bill reads in section 8.
‘Protection of life and safety’
“The need to broadcast emergency announcements using all available means is a matter of protection of life and safety of the residents of the Cayman Islands,” Hazard Management Director McCleary Frederick said. “Not everyone uses the services provided by public services [broadcasters], and it is the responsibility of Hazard Management Cayman Islands to ensure that in the event of a disaster everyone has the opportunity to be notified.”
Hazard Management Cayman Islands representative Simon Boxall said the agency anticipates the emergency announcement system working in a way similar to what most U.S. emergency management agencies use during hurricanes, tornadoes or during “Amber Alerts” for missing children.
“We’re really not expecting these announcements to be on the air for more than 10-15 seconds,” Mr. Boxall said, adding that he did not envision a situation where content from government broadcaster Radio Cayman, for example, would be placed on the airwaves of a privately owned radio station. Most situations could be dealt with via an on-screen warning or “crawl” across the bottom of a television screen or, in the case of radio or telecommunications, a text message or pre-recorded announcement.
The main reason the emergency announcement protocols are being drawn up, he said, is because many storms or other emergencies occur during off hours at the weekends or overnight, and most local broadcasters aren’t staffed during those times.
ICTA Managing Director Alee Fa’amoe said the licensing authority has recognized for some time that local telecommunications companies and broadcasters were somewhat out of the loop when it came to emergency communications.
“The joint ICTA [and Hazard Management] teams reviewed current disaster preparedness plans and quickly realized too many of our ICT licensees were traditionally not involved in the former [hazard management] preparedness process,” Mr. Fa’amoe said. “The authority has asked each licensee, including our FM [radio] broadcasting stations, to develop a disaster or crisis management plan and send it to the authority for review.
“Part of that coordination with [hazard management] is the ability to provide the public with information via emergency broadcasts.”
The bill states that ICTA licensees that broadcast the emergency messages on behalf of government would not be held liable for the content.
Another significant change the bill proposes is the ability to declare specific areas of Cayman “disaster areas” or “hazardous areas.”
Previously, Mr. Boxall said, the governor’s office would declare a state of emergency that took effect for all three islands, even if one had not been touched by a storm.
The new legislation seeks to narrow that power, designating only certain areas as “no-go zones” in the event of, for example, a major plane crash or serious flooding that significantly affected only one part of Grand Cayman.
The law also sets out arrest powers for police who spot individuals traveling in a designated disaster area. Anyone convicted of being in those areas without permission could face up to a $20,000 fine, a year in prison or both.
“We’ve been trying to get this legislation passed for a number of years, at least since 2009,” Mr. Boxall said.
Another area the bill deals with is paid leave in the event an employee who volunteers for disaster relief services must be called away from their normal job.
The bill states that such an employee would be entitled to paid leave at standard rates “up to 10 working days.”
Examples of workers affected under this section could be Cadet Corps managers or senior personnel who are often called upon to man the phones at the emergency center during or after a hurricane, or volunteers with the local hazard management council.
Hazard Management Cayman Islands would essentially provide notices to those employees enabling them to leave work for a set period, the bill states.