Devastation is seen in Bodden Town following 2004's Hurricane Ivan. Red Cross volunteers were briefed recently on preparations to make during hurricane season and the tasks they will be called upon to do in the event of another hurricane impacting the Cayman Islands. - Photo: Carol Winker

Nearly 100 volunteers gathered to hear of the potential tasks ahead of them and the preparations they should be making at the Cayman Islands Red Cross’s pre-hurricane meeting.

Organisers said the annual meeting, which is held at the start of the season every year, is an opportunity for the organisation to refresh or provide information to new and existing volunteers.

“Cayman is a transient society, and as such we always have large numbers of new volunteers who are unaware of the magnitude of the tasks that the Red Cross undertakes in times of disasters,” Branch Director Jondo Obi said in a press release. “Our organisation runs additional programmes, like First Aid, the Thrift Shop and Child Protection and Sexuality Education, so it’s important to let all volunteers know that should a disaster hit, it is all hands on deck.”

The 30 May meeting started off with a review of the 2018 hurricane season in the region, which saw 15 storms, five of which were tropical storms, eight were hurricanes, and two were major hurricanes.

“Last year’s season was significant,” said Disaster Management Programme Manager Eddie Tinling-Miller, “Two major hurricanes, Florence and Michael, were retired by the Regional Hurricane Committee. However, the weather conditions changed rapidly and unpredictably, and the storms escalated into major hurricanes. Eventually, these two were together responsible for over 170 fatalities in the region, and caused damages estimated to cost close to US$50 billion. These storms serve as a reminder to always be alert, connected and, most importantly, prepared.”

John Tibbetts, director general of the Cayman Islands National Weather Service, gave the Red Cross volunteers an oversight of 2018 season and predictions for 2019, providing scientific input and describing the best practices before, during and immediately following a storm.

Volunteers were reminded that general preparedness at the individual level and having a family disaster plan are vital.

“If you haven’t done so, go home and discuss this with your families,” Tinling-Miller told them. “Decide if you’re going to be here or if you’re going off island. If you are staying here, where are you going to stay? Do you know if you live in an area where evacuation is mandatory? Can you stay with friends or will you be going to a shelter? All of these questions need answers, and you must include your family members in this discussion.”

He also emphasised the importance of having additional medication for the aftermath of the storm, as well as knowing blood types for family members. “It’s something that is so simple, but so easy to forget,” he said. “If records are unavailable or systems are down, this can be life-saving information, so make sure that all of your medical records, just like your passports, insurance information and other crucial documents, are scanned, copied and are stored safely in a waterproof container.”

Participants received a full rundown of tasks and activities that the Red Cross undertakes in the event of a hurricane, and volunteers were asked to not only think about those roles but also indicate areas of interest that they would be able to undertake.

“The work begins once there is a hurricane warning: we are the first shelter to open in Grand Cayman, and we also make it a point to assist the most vulnerable the best we can by helping the elderly and disabled population sandbag their homes,” Tinling-Miller said.

The volunteers would also be called upon to assist in the evacuation of flood-prone zones; manage the Red Cross shelter; provide first aid coverage at all non-emergency shelters in Grand Cayman; conduct damage and needs assessment following a storm; provided first aid support for the public at Red Cross headquarters; assist with search and rescue efforts and relief distribution; and connect families via the Restoring Family Links programme.

“Those of us who were here in 2004 remember the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan,” Tinling-Miller said. “But since then, we’ve learned and adapted, and are now more prepared than ever – not just as individuals or as family units, but also as a community. As CIRC volunteers, our job is to ensure the resilience or our homes and communities, and to be ready to assist at all times.

“And before anything else, make sure you home is prepared and well stocked: stock up on water – a gallon of water a day per person, non-perishable food items, medication and special dietary items if needed, battery operated lighting, extra batteries and personal safety and sanitation items.”

Obi said the 2018 hurricane season, which was catastrophic for the eastern Caribbean region, did not directly impact Cayman, but that the Red Cross had learned important lessons from it.

To learn more about the Cayman Islands Red Cross, to get assistance in writing a family disaster plan, or to register as a volunteer, email [email protected] or call 949‑6785.