Premier Alden McLaughlin has urged residents to consider looking at other sheltering options available to them outside of designated hurricane shelters on Grand Cayman in the event of a storm hitting the island.
In his annual hurricane message, the premier on Tuesday outlined challenges which have been compounded by the COVID-19 health crisis, such as the fact that social-distancing protocols limit the number of people who can gather inside shelters.
“Whilst shelters are available if needed in the event of a storm, given the shortage of shelter space and the need for social distancing, we ask that you also consider any other sheltering options that may be available to you,” McLaughlin said.
Hurricane season officially began on Monday, 1 June.
Local shelters have not been used in Cayman’s COVID-19 response to date, but they have been considered for possible use as quarantine facilities.
Speaking at Tuesday’s COVID-9 press briefing, McLaughlin suggested, as an example, that residents could consider going to “strong, elevated structures of friends or family members, or to resilient office buildings, if those options are available”.
He said government is aware that the option of evacuating the islands in the event of a storm is not readily available, “so that will likely result in additional demand for shelter spaces”.
“Social-distancing measures also reduce available shelter space, so we have been actively seeking additional shelter capacity. Additional shelter buildings have been identified and are currently being assessed for suitability. We plan to update the list of approved shelters in a few weeks,” he said.
According to a recent Department of Children and Family Services and Hazard Management Cayman Islands Services joint statement, 15 hurricane shelters have been approved for use during the 2020 season.
However, social-distancing requirements would result in reduced shelter capacity, necessitating the acquisition of additional facilities. Also, COVID-19-positive patients would have to be housed in separate shelter locations.
In the statement, which highlighted recent shelter-management training administered to volunteers, DCFS and HMCI said a screening protocol for access to the shelters was being finalised and 25 digital thermometers had been ordered to help assess the health status of those seeking shelter.
McLaughlin said residents who planned to go to a shelter should take face masks, sanitisers and a stock of food and water, “but you won’t be turned away if you don’t have these supplies”.
“Government’s National Emergency Operations Centre is working to ensure that appropriate social distancing protocols are in place in all emergency shelters and that there will be stocks of masks and personal protective equipment available for everyone,” he added.
The premier stressed the need for hurricane preparation, adding that assistance is available for those who need it.
“My usual plea goes a bit further this year because we still have to be concerned about the impact of COVID-19. And I know that there are many people out there right now who are out of work, so just getting the necessary three-to-five days of non-perishable food, water and perhaps plywood for shuttering may be difficult. Government is keenly aware these are very challenging times and we will continue to assist where we can,” McLaughlin said.
He added that the activation of the National Emergency Operations Centre in response to the coronavirus crisis “has in some respects created an environment where we are as ready as we have ever been for any threat we face, including a hurricane”.
He said Cayman’s National Weather Service is linked to other weather services regionally and can stay on top of all meteorological issues and inform the public well in advance when bad weather is headed in Cayman’s direction.
“Those warnings give us ample time to make preparations, but I ask you not to wait to prepare,” he said, adding that it is important to pay attention to government and local media outlets for information and updates.
“The memories of hurricanes Ivan and Paloma still weigh heavily on the mind as do those of the major earthquake we experienced in January this year. All of these events taught us all the importance of being prepared and having a plan,” McLaughlin said.
For hurricane information and tips, visit http://www.caymanprepared.ky.