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Hurricane and Disaster Preparedness Essentials: Cayman Conversations Takes a Closer Look

Cayman Conversation 05 Jun, 2024 Follow News

John Tibbetts

Danielle Coleman

By Stuart Wilson

Caymanian Times Editor and Publisher, Mr. Ralph Lewis sat down with the Director General of the National Weather Service, Mr. John Tibbetts and Director of Hazard Management Dani Coleman for a discussion about Hurricane Season 2024 and disaster preparedness on Cayman Conversations on 30th May.

The conversation centered around what to expect for the next few months, as this year’s Hurricane Season gets underway and is forecasted to be one of the busiest on record by Colorado State, whom have forecasted 23 named storms to develop in the Atlantic Basin, with 11 being hurricanes and five being major hurricanes.

“In 2023 we had the fourth most active Atlantic Hurricane Seasons with 20 named storms, 7 hurricanes and three major hurricanes. An average season is usually 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes,” said Mr. Tibbetts.

Forecasters generally look at how the atmosphere and the ocean are set up to determine what to expect.

There are two different numbers that assist in this regard: sea-surface temperatures - which are at record highs - and air temperatures, which are also presenting high readings. Both provide fuel for the development of storms.

The other component that forecasters are watching closely is the El Niño, La Niña cycle.

“We had an El Niño cycle last year and are at a neutral phase right now as we transition to the La Niña forecasted at the peak of the Hurricane Season.

“That’s a bit concerning to say the least. That and the record heatwave across the Island right now tells us that as the Season goes along things are going to get progressively worse. The second half of the Season is the time when the more large and fierce storms tend to form,” said Mr. Tibbetts.

The prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) supports the Colarado State forecast, according the Director General of the National Weather Service.

Sahara Dust can impede the ability of Hurricanes to form but Mr. Tibbetts said that these are not that impressive at the moment.

However, Mrs. Coleman said this is another concern of a different kind and one or the other are still hazards the public needs to be vigilant about.

“Hazard Management is preparing for all eventualities and there is a lot going on right now. The National Emergency Operation Centre can be ready in the space of about 16 minutes now. This is in the event of earthquakes and other potentialities,” she said.

Shelter orientation and assessments are a major concern and work is going into infrastructure and training of teams during the month of June, in addition to training for the All National Emergency Operation Structure, which includes the Executive Branch of Government such as the Premier, the Governor, the Police.

The operational tactical level is also undergoing training and a full-scale hurricane exercise is scheduled at the end of June.

“The Humanitarian ship ‘DAWN’ was in Grand Cayman several weeks ago and we have been coordinating with them. This involved preparing to send supplies to the Sister Islands in the event of an emergency and medevac capabilities.

“Every player in the response system needs to be personally prepared and then ready to play their part. We can’t respond unless we have our own house in order,” said Mrs. Coleman. 

“We never have enough volunteers for the shelters and are always seeking assistance for persons to train,” she added. 

The Naitonal Weather Service now operates under the Cabinet Office and the Cayman Islands’ radar is back up and running prior to this Hurricane Season.

“We are working on having annual training for the radar and parts put on a special access list to improve our response to any issues,” said Mr. Tibbetts, who added that the radar is 12 years-old which is a concern.

“We need to have discussions about the future for this apparatus. The Premier and the government are fully behind the weather radar project to deliver what the Caymanian people deserve,” he said. 

Manager of Technical Services Michael Cary and Sandra Morriss of the Cabinet Office were instrumental in getting the radar back up and running, in addition to Mr. Tibbetts and his team.

The Caymanian Times is continually publishing where the Hurricane Shelters are so that persons can make plans in advance. Those with medical conditions may want to go to an emergency medical centre.

If persons have an alternative to shelters that is recommended, as the public shelters are not always ideal.

Bodden Town Church of God will be coming online as a shelter this year, with John Gray and George Hicks also being utilised. There are very strict criteria for shelters and assessments are extensive.

Hazard Management works with private companies to make sure their private facilities may be a place of refuge for their staff, as this frees up space in the public shelters.

The decisions to go to a shelter needs to be made well in advance, otherwise rescues can put disaster relief personnel at risk.

“Be in those shelters before tropical storm force winds hit because the storms can be tricky in how they behave and persons may find extreme difficulty in getting to a shelter,” said Mr. Tibbetts.

Currently, there are only two pet friendly shelters and plans need to be specific to persons’ needs. The Hazaard Management print a disaster relief pamphlet that may be of great assistance to those who are seeking to be prepared, which is available at all supermarkets.

Also visit www.caymanprepared.ky  for more information and also seek to download the National Emergency App from the Hazard Management website. 

The cost of preparations may be an issue for some so starting now and compiling supplies over time may be one way of getting out ahead of the Season, according to officials, who encouraged locals to put aside some Hurricane savings, as the time may come when persons have to rush to the supermarket to get supplies.

“Hurricane’s don’t know when it’s payday,” noted the guests.

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