I n the midst of the 2014 pre-hurricane season (before June) Chairman of Cool Group of companies Joseph J. Issa, says Jamaicans should stop being complacent in their preparations for the annual hurricane season and calls on them to start planning for this year’s weather systems starting June 1 and ending November 30.
Also at this time, mid-way in the pre-season Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is warning everyone including businesses to start preparing now. Its website is calling on everyone to seek knowledge on how to prepare for the hurricane season including businesses.
The website cited as critical an emergency contact list with 24-hour telephone numbers of essential employees and official response agencies, identification and security of vital documents and files, determination of responsibility for maintenance of the facility covering aspects such as needed repairs to roofs and windows, emergency lighting, essential supplies and First Aid training.
“Every year Jamaicans tend to wait for a hurricane to approach before they start taking measures to protect their lives and property with devastating consequences,” Joe Issa states, noting, “Last year the country was spared but it may not be as lucky this year even if a quiet season has been predicted for 2014.”
In Tyler Stanfield’s WunderBlog: The 2014 Hurricane season: What to Expect/Weather Underground, the noted forecaster states that there are conditions that hinder or enhance the development of hurricanes citing the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) as the biggest hindrance, limiting the amount of hurricanes and major hurricanes.
“With the increasing odds of an El Nino event developing by the peak of the 2014 hurricane season, unfavorable conditions will likely plague the storms of the Atlantic basin from start to finish. This will cause a limited amount of hurricanes and major hurricanes to develop during the season and decrease the likelihood of a hurricane landfall.
“Along with the anticipation of a quieter, below average season the overall lack of above average surface temperatures in the deep tropics, increased trade winds and low instability will likely be a large factor in less storms being capable of intensifying and becoming hurricanes and major hurricanes,” Stanfield says in the February 2014 outlook in which he predicted 10 named storms, three hurricanes and one major hurricane.
However, Stanfield warns, “You should not keep your guard down. An inactive hurricane season can just as easily have a major hurricane make landfall as much as any other season and this forecast should not be taken as a reason to write off the season. It only takes one to make a quiet season a bad season.”
Noting that it’s not only the big weather systems that cause massive damage, Joey recalls: “Last year while Jamaicans were napping waiting for the big hurricane to approach before they start to plan for it, they were caught off-guard by a lowly category 1 Hurricane Sandy which caused widespread damage,” stating, “It is this experience I hope will finally prompt them to take early action to minimize hardships this hurricane season; the experience of Hurricane Gilbert should have done that.”
“We need to act on many fronts simultaneously; we have to establish mandatory evacuation legislation and the associated penalties, develop the monitoring capabilities to stamp out construction in unsafe areas and stop the breaches of the building code and the flagrant littering of gullies and drains,” Joey states.
Posted on the ODPEM website, a January article quoted Acting Director General of ODPEM, Richard Thompson, as saying that Gilbert was for Jamaica a turning point.
“We have 947 communities in Jamaica and over 300 are considered highly vulnerable. There is a need to have no-build zones and we are looking at that,” he told the Jamaica Observer newspaper.
On the issue of mandatory evacuation Thompson said this was being discussed, while noting that due to a number of legal implications “it might be easier to maintain a compulsory evacuation regime.”
According to the website, Hurricaneville, some of the most notable hurricanes recorded since Jamaica’s independence in 1962 include: Flora on October 5-7, 1963; Allen on August 4-7, 1980; and the infamous Gilbert on September 12, 1988 which left 25 per cent of the population homeless, almost every home without electricity and 45 people dead.
Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson, was also quoted in the Jamaica Observer article as saying that Jamaicans at the time of Hurricane Gilbert had probably used their experience of weather systems such as what was then called the ’51 storm’ (Charlie) and others to pre-judge what Gilbert would have brought only to be caught by surprise.
“By the time Gilbert would have come around there was a sense of complacency in our population that they just did not believe Jamaica could have been impacted and that was reflected not just in terms of the way people responded to that event but the whole culture of government, of our sectors and of our businesses; there was not a risk management culture in 1988,” he said, noting, “That behavior, however, might mostly be Gone with the Wind.”
“If we look at today’s Jamaica we see where more and more individuals are seeking out knowledge about how to be ready for these events; you would have seen improvements certainly in terms of roof construction and the securing of roofs, not that it is at the level where it should be but it is far advanced,” Jackson pointed out.