WHILE LAST WEEK’S earth tremors rattled Barbadians, yesterday’s “orange alert” for a possible eruption of the Kick ’em Jenny undersea volcano came very close to creating a near-panic.
Because of the nature of the threat, the nervousness of Bajans did not manifest itself in the rush to supermarkets and gas stations as occurs on the approach of a hurricane. But there can be no doubt that countless Barbadians, particularly those working in and around The City and on the West and South coasts, existed in astate of fear at least until the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) held its early afternoon press conference.
We are reasonably sure that after yesterday’s experience the mere mention of the name Kick ’em Jenny will evoke a new “respect” among Barbadians.
But there was an even bigger message sent yesterday that should not be ignored by emergency planners. Despite the fact that Barbados’ last major brush with a hurricane was in 1955, the level of awareness of what everyone should do on the approach of such a system remains quite high, even if there is a commensurate level of apathy.
Yesterday, though, Barbadians at every level of the society had no idea of what they should do. In fact, it is now clear that a significant number of Barbadians did not even have a clue what an “orange alert” meant.
In offices across the island workers questioned if they should return home, managers did not know if they should release their employees and everywhere phone calls were being exchanged as people tried to determine exactly what the “orange alert” required them to do.
It was a learning experience for all, and in a sense it would be unfair to come down hard on officials at the DEM. But there cannot be a repeat of yesterday. There has to be a programme of education that informs Barbadians of the various stages of alert, what each means and what they should do in response.
An informed population is less likely to panic, and with such a huge percentage of Barbadians living and working in Bridgetown and the low-lying coastal areas, comprehensive evacuation plans have to be devised, articulated and tested. We cannot leave such an important responsibility to chance or ask people to resort to the Internet, where information can be quite generic.
In fact, not only do we need to ensure that the population understands the alerts, there has to be a structured way of communicating them. Barbadians understand terms such as “hurricane watch” and “hurricane warning” and they know when to expect them from the Meteorological Office.
Yesterday many Barbadians found out about the “orange alert” from the Internet, from forwarded emails, shared URLs, and good old word of mouth. Apparently, there is no known alert system involving the news media that can be compared with that for storms. That needs to be urgently corrected.
Additionally, Barbadians need to be advised on how they should relate to their loved one, particularly if they are vulnerable — and the advice needs to take into consideration whether children are in school or on holiday. We are sure that as citizens replay the events of yesterday in their minds they will question whether their children would have been better off in a structured school environment had there been a need to evacuate or if there was less harm in being at home, or elsewhere in an environment that’s less rigid than a school campus.
Yesterday was a perfect “all’s-well-that-ends-well” occasion, but we can’t depend on chance as an acceptable modus operadi.
Source: Editorial @ nationnews.com