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Cayman Conversation 13 Jun, 2023 Follow News

John Tibbetts

Cayman Conversations

It is the most important advice of the hurricane season and it’s repeated with unerring regularity year after year: Follow the official advice.

With unfailing certainty this advice from the disaster management agencies in Cayman has proven to save lives - its most important outcome.

It has also served to minimise property and economic damage as far as the ferocity of particular storms would allow. The insurance aspect is also a major component of following that advice.

All of this was spelt out on the Caymanian Times online live-stream and radio programme Cayman Conversations which featured guests Dani Coleman - Director of Hazard Management, Oneisha Richards - Director of Communications, and John Tibbets - Director of the National Weather Service.

In conversation with the programme’s host Ralph Lewis (publisher of Caymanian Times), their uniform message to residents carried a sense of urgency.

NWS director Tibbetts was crystal clear in his admonition: “Year in and year out, we’ll continue to fight with other media, other meteorological experts posting on YouTube and Facebook and they have a tendency to excite the public when there really is no need for excitement.”

Clearly concerned about their lack of accountability, Mr Tibbets made this observation: “They really have no accountability because no matter how many times they’re wrong, the Cayman general public are not going to go and say they’re wrong. It is my job for the Cayman Islands government. That is my role. They are doing this on a private venture on the side and there are no penalties for them being wrong (but) there are potential penalties for us in terms of our public not necessarily listening to us.”

That point of view by NWS head Tibbets is fully supported by Dani Coleman, the director of Cayman Islands Hazard Management, whose remit covers all emergency situations.

“I think John’s got a great point,” she concurred while stressing the importance of accurate information in order to respond to situations which could change rapidly.

“We can’t be crying wolf all the time. We have to have a reasonable expectation that we’re going to get impacted. But of course, with climate change and other (factors) things change very, very quickly. So that information getting out in a timely manner and verified is absolutely critical,” she said.

The Hazard Management director also noted that with the experience gained from the COVID crisis, her division has further streamlined its operations to better respond to various types of emergencies and coordinate with other agencies.

“We’ve changed a lot over the last couple of years as to how we work together and how we, how we are streamlined and how we’re making sure we’re getting the best out of a multi-agency response. We’ve done a lot more training this year with all our key players in the National Emergency Operation Centre.”

Underling the message on the importance of relying on the official advisories was Oneisha Richards the new Director of Communications in the Cayman Islands government.

“It’s extremely important that you trust the information is coming from official sources. We’re actually going to be pushing out content throughout the rest of the season, specifically about getting ready.”

She said one particular area of attention will be on those persons who have not experienced the devastating force of a hurricane, or even a tropical storm with its disruptive risks.

“I think most people tend to not think about the makeup of our population. So those of us who’ve been through this a couple of times feel quite comfortable knowing what we need to do. But there are many, many people who call this home who’ve never been through a very strong storm or don’t know how to prepare. So we spend a lot of time explaining the things that you should have in your kit. We also work with various departments to get that information to individuals who may be vulnerable, or get information slightly more traditional.”

One traditional and very practical item she said that should be part of a personal or home disaster preparation kit is a radio.

“One of the simple messages that we’ll be pushing very strongly is ‘have a radio’. We know it’s not something that some people don’t have anymore. We do everything on our phones are in our computers, but in the midst of a storm, you want to save batteries and you still need to get that information, and we know radio works.”

While the general outlook is for a near-normal hurricane season this year due to what’s called the El Nino effect, NWS director John Tibbets cautions that we should not let our guard down.

Updated projections from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) point to the unpredictability of the weather.

“El Nino is basically a warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean. The impact that it has on the Atlantic basin is generally a tendency to cap the development of the hurricane season. There’s a little bit of bad news, and that is there’s a competing, competing situation that the sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are above normal. So we got one thing fighting against an active season and something else waiting for an active season.”

And that seems more than adequate reason to be prepared and to follow the official weather forecasts and advisories.

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