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Cayman Conversation 14 Sep, 2023 Follow News


John Tibbetts

Danielle Coleman

Teresita DaSilva.

By Cayman Conversations

With the hurricane season at its peak, Cayman’s disaster management experts are stepping up their public awareness campaigns.

Recently, several storms have developed in rapid succession, causing substantial damage where they’ve made landfall.

More storms coming off the coast of West Africa along with systems developing in the western Caribbean Sea are also keeping forecasters busy.

It’s a pattern that John Tibbets, Chief Meteorologist with Cayman’s National Weather Service(NWS) knows only too well.

In a discussion on the Caymanian Times podcast Cayman Conversations, Mr Tibbets urged the public to stay on the lookout as climatic conditions are now even more favourable for storm development.

“The latest forecasts that have come out as of August, call for 18 named storms, nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes. And the reason for that is basically while we have a fairly healthy El Nino developed, the reality is that the Atlantic Ocean is setting all kinds of records with sea surface temperatures. Sea surface temperatures is one of the necessary ingredients for the development and formation of storms.”

He said the outlook for the second half of the season should be of concern to Cayman, especially as weather systems tend to develop more rapidly in the Western Caribbean Sea and have shorter distances to travel.

“We usually don’t necessarily have a nice lengthy warning time to give the people. Moreover, systems that form in the Western Caribbean usually have more than enough energy for development into major hurricanes.”

The heightened sense of urgency is shared by Danielle ‘Dani’ Coleman, Director of Cayman Islands Hazard Management.

One of her priorities is ensuring that hurricane shelters, both government and from the private sector, are available and up to standard and in adequate numbers when needed. There are currently 19 designated shelters, 15 in Grand Cayman, and others are under consideration.

“We’ve spent many, many years trying to get more online, including private shelters. We’ve been working with a lot of private companies to try and make sure that they can provide for their employees. There’s a lot of work still going on. We are still concerned about shelter capacity.”

However, the Hazard Management director noted that among the UK Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, Cayman ranked highest for hurricane shelter capacity.

“So, you know there’s one thing to be proud of, I guess, but you know, we always want to make sure we have capacity for a very large slice of the population,” she added.

One of the key issues coming out of the discussion was for the public to ensure that they have their own disaster plan in place well in advance, in the event it needed to be activated.

“We are really strongly encouraging the public to have a plan for that. If it’s going to a friend’s house, or staying in your own house assuming it’s safe…It’s acknowledging those vulnerabilities. but try and have a plan and make sure that you think about your options.”

Hazard Management Director Coleman also said that this applies equally to business establishments in the likelihood that some people may have to shelter-in-place.

Public awareness is key to disaster preparedness, the experts agreed. Teresita DaSilva is the Preparedness and Planning Manager at HMCI.

“My job really entails looking at the holistic preparedness for the islands,” she explained. “I review the plans, I engage with the communities. There’s a community response team. So we look at vulnerable communities, and we train them in various aspects so that in the event that something takes place - not just a hurricane, it could be anything - that they have those skills in the community to sustain themselves until the emergency services can come and facilitate or assist.”

She also pointed out that “there’s a lot of persons who are here that may not be residents or locals, so they may not be aware of the different hazards that we are prone to. They may not be aware of the different options. So we do a lot of public education services as a community emergency response team.”

Another area that was emphasised is that of insurance and the importance of being adequately covered.

“I think it’s significantly important that part of your preparedness should be to check what your policy is, what it entails and how much you’re actually covered for,” Preparedness and Planning Manager Da Silva stressed.

In addition to hurricane preparedness, Hazard Management Director Dani Coleman disclosed that the Cayman Islands is carrying out several training and disaster preparedness and response scenarios including floods, tsunamis, hazardous materials and storm surges. Teams from the UK and US are taking part in the local exercises including collaborating with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a tsunami modelling scheme in the islands.

“There’s so much going on. A lot of what we’re doing right now is looking for evidence and data to support the work that we do,” Hazard Management Director Coleman said.

The entire interview is available on Caymanian Times Facebook and Youtube pages from Saturday September 16.

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