NASSAU, The Bahamas – Disaster Managers from across the archipelago recently concluded a four-day Restore Island Cays (R.I.C.) Exercise that was hosted at the National Emergency Management Agency’s (NEMA) Headquarters, Gladstone Road and NEMA’s Way during this past week.
The R.I.C Exercise has become an annual event for the Agency and Disaster Managers and Planners across the country since its launch in 2017. It is a collaboration between NEMA and its global partners from the Pacific Disaster Centre, based in Hawaii, United States of America; the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), based in Denver, Colorado, United States of America; and officials from the United States Coast Guard.
Captain Stephen Russell, Director, the National Emergency Management Agency, said the aim of the Exercise was to simulate various events that could impact The Bahamas, be they hurricanes or other major, mass casualty events. The Exercise further allows local disaster management officials in New Providence, along with Disaster Consultative Committees in Grand Bahama, Abaco and the Family Islands, to “test the collective disaster management system of The Bahamas” through a series of simulated events including mass casualty events, and damages to key infrastructure such as utilities, docks, roads, clinics, hospitals, schools and telecommunications networks, among others
“It is an opportunity for knowledge exchange, and capacity building,” Captain Russell said. “The aim is to ensure that if an event occurs anywhere in the archipelago, either at the island or community level, those persons on the ground in the various islands can respond on their own, or if there is a need for a national response, the national response will kick in.
“The scenario simulated a major Category 5 Hurricane with winds of 175 miles per hour and accompanying storm surge of up to 20 feet approaching The Bahamas from the south, coming across the eastern tip of Cuba, across the western tip of Hispaniola, and proceeding up the archipelago, touching most of our islands and exiting up towards the Grand Bahama/Abaco area. In this scenario, all islands of the Bahamas would have somehow been impacted.
“(As part of the simulation exercise) We began receiving Alerts from The Bahamas Department of Meteorology when the system was 60 hours away, south of Cuba. We started the process of activating our systems from Inagua and Mayaguana in the south and gradually as the storm made its approach, we continued to activate our entire system until the entire country was in preparation and response mode.”
Captain Russell applauded the participants (In-house and virtually). He said the Agency will continue to do its part to prepare the country’s comprehensive disaster management system to be able to respond to any emergency and/or disaster that may impact the country. He urged citizens and residents to do likewise with their individual and community preparations.
“Over the past 7 years, going back to Hurricane Joaquin up to Hurricane Dorian, every citizen in the commonwealth should be aware of the extent of the damages these systems can cause. A Category 5 Storm, such as the one we saw with Hurricane Dorian, can bring about catastrophic damages and deaths (and) so we urge every citizen and resident throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to heed our calls to be prepared. Hurricane Joaquin (2015), Matthew (2016), Irma (2017), and Hurricane Dorian (2019) – those four major storms – all came with associated storm surge ranging from 12-20 feet and above of water over our low-lying communities.
“NEMA will raise the alarm; we have had the awareness exercises and will continue to do so, but again it is up to individuals, at the family level, at the household level, to have a Plan of Action as to how they will respond. We encourage persons at the community level to know where the vulnerable areas are in their communities, where the vulnerable citizens are, and where those persons with challenges are. Collectively as a community, we must have a plan as to how we will safeguard our communities.
“I also frequently speak about business plans; about livelihood protection plans. We encourage small (and large) businesses to find a way to safeguard their assets. Storms will come and they have become more frequent and more ferocious so we must have a Plan of Action to safeguard our assets.”
Captain Russell also addressed the need to adhere to evacuation orders.
“The Government has implemented Mandatory Evacuation Plans, we therefore stress upon persons that if evacuation orders – mandatory or voluntary – have been issued for your community, to please take the self-responsibility to connect with your local Administrators, with members of the local Disaster Management Committees to know what the Plan of Action is,” Captain Russell added.