Grand Cayman currently lacks sufficient hurricane shelter capacity to cope with expected demand in the event of a major storm.
There are 15 shelters across the island with space for 5,120 people – just 8% of the population.
Though only 36 people opted to stay in shelters during Tropical Storm Grace, Hazard Management Cayman Islands chiefs believe the number would be far larger in the event of a hurricane.
Danielle Coleman, HMCI director, said the impact of Grace, which downed power lines and trees, and ripped the roofs off some homes, had many people re-evaluating their hurricane plans.
She expects to see more people at shelters for the next significant storm and is concerned that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane would test the limits of the island’s current capacity.
Hazard Management is midway through a project that seeks to more than double shelter space to accommodate 20% of the population within the next two years.
A huge step forward will come with the completion of the new John Gray High School, which will have capacity for more than 5,000 people. A new shelter at the Church of God in Bodden Town is also in the works.
Meanwhile, Hazard Management and Public Works officials have been carrying out assessments on 22 existing buildings that could be upgraded to provide additional shelter space. They are proposing to add 1,058 new spaces this way.
“The criteria that goes into making sure a building is safe to be a shelter is quite comprehensive,” said Coleman.
“We need to make sure that what we are funding is fit for purpose. It is a rather longer journey than we anticipated.”
She said the unit is also working with businesses on protocols to enable them to convert hurricane-resistant offices into shelters for their staff.
Many of the newer offices in Cricket Square and Camana Bay are built to resist major storms, and Coleman said many businesses are willing to house their staff in storms and decrease the pressure on government shelters.
Space in shelters is allocated on a first come, first served basis and Hazard Management advises everyone to conduct a proper risk assessment of their property and have a plan. Anyone who wants to go to a shelter is advised to make a decision sooner rather than later.
A national emergency notification system app is also planned to help aid decision-making.
For those that have the option of staying with friends or neighbours in more secure areas than their own home, Coleman said this would be a more comfortable option than government shelters.
Despite those concerns, Coleman said Cayman is in a better position than many of its neighbours.
“While we aren’t particularly satisfied with 8%, we are in a good place compared to other Overseas Territories.”
Cayman Islands shelter space (% of population)
Grand Cayman – 8%
Cayman Brac – 50%
Little Cayman – 100%