Editorial | Are you prepared?
All national disaster-preparedness agencies have been mobilised and placed on high alert as Hurricane Matthew gets closer to Jamaica.
This storm is being taken seriously because with all the improved capabilities for advance warning, the likely path places this Category Three hurricane near Jamaica early next week. If the country is prepared, it can face the expected onslaught with confidence.
It is reassuring that the Government, its departments and agencies, have taken preparatory steps to activate the emergency systems. This newspaper acknowledges that disaster management is an essential factor in good governance and is a critical area of national planning, for when disaster strikes, it disrupts livelihoods, interrupts economic activity, and causes resources to be diverted.
Even if Jamaica is spared a direct hit, at the very least, the country can expect heavy rainfall, which could spark major chaos created by land slippage and downed trees and power lines. Preparation and caution could make the difference between life and death. This impending weather system can create many hazards for the country, including the destruction of farms and livestock.
Despite all the initiatives that have been taken, there remain significant gaps in Jamaica's disaster preparedness that arise from the poor enforcement of standards and building regulations. As a result, people continue to construct homes on gully banks and in other flood-prone areas. The appeals for them to move to higher ground during times of disaster are usually met with stiff resistance.
Another glaring gap in our disaster management is the poor drainage system, which is exacerbated by garbage-choked waterways. Until this system is properly overhauled and solid waste management improved, the country must continue to brace itself for flooding - and worse, damage to critical infrastructure, including roads and bridges.
Emergency centres have been opened and households need to assess the risks associated with their communities to make a determination as to whether they need to seek shelter, bearing in mind that hazards such as power outages and flooding are likely to result. Those who remain in their homes have to be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours, which is the standard used in many countries.
It is important that vulnerable persons, including those with special needs, are identified in advance so they can be assisted to evacuate if their situation demands it.
The other important question relates to how long it will take for the country to recover from the effects of the storm and put lives back together. It is essential that after a disaster, the commercial life of the country is quickly restored, so the country is highly dependent on the efficient and timely response of various emergency teams. Yet, we urge caution in the restoration efforts, for many hazards could be encountered.
We cannot stress enough that careful planning and preparation will minimise the impact of the hurricane on families, property, and businesses.