The National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), set up just under three months ago, is being hailed as a singular success in its short lifespan coordinating the Cayman Islands response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The NEOC was set up on March 3rd to be the hub of “an intensive multi-sectoral collaborative approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic with the primary focus of containing the virus in order to preserve life.”
Reporting to the Legislative Assembly on its achievements to date, Hon. Tara Rivers in her capacity as Home Affairs minister, credited the NEOC with already living up to its remit which she described as “unprecedented in the Cayman Islands.”
Listing “a myriad of challenges” the NEOC has had to deal with daily, she mentioned planning and operating the government’s isolation control facilities which have accommodated 473 persons since March 18th.
It also distributed thousands of items of PPE (personal protective equipment) in the community including supermarkets, an runs its communications outreach.
The Home Affairs Minister also credited the NEOC with giving Cayman a positive international profile for its management of the COVID-19 crisis locally.
“The tireless efforts of these teams, which include the HSA (Heath Services Authority), have helped the Cayman Islands to be ranked among the top seven in the world for testing per capita,” Min. Rivers confirmed.
With the onset of the hurricane season, she said the newly developed expertise within the NEOC from its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with existing disaster preparedness capabilities locally, put the Cayman Islands in good stead.
“While this pandemic has presented challenges never seen before it has also provided an opportunity for the review and refinement of existing preparedness mitigation and response and reactivation plans.”
Against that background, Min Rivers concluded that: “Given that our national disaster response mechanism has been fully activated for our two months now - 77 days to be exact - and with improvements in operations having occurred over time, it is highly likely that as a country we have never been ready as we are now for an upcoming hurricane season.”
With a two-day hurricane preparedness exercise taking place across Wednesday and Thursday, Min. Rivers outlined that the NEOC was contributing its newly-developed and field-tested skill sets into this annual operation.
“Teams within the NEOC will focus on ensuring that a wide range of the COVID-19 related considerations are incorporated into the hurricane plans” across a range of areas including shelter management.
The outlook is for an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. One pre-season storm, Arthur has already developed and moved north of the Bahamas last weekend.
The Home Affairs Minister said: "While the seasonal forecast suggests that this will be an active hurricane season", she was confident that "the lessons learned and enhanced ways of working that have been attained over the last few months will stand us in good stead and will enable us to actively deal with any threats that lie ahead."