Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Jamaica needs community-based disaster management

Published:Friday | July 20, 2018 | 12:00 AMBrian Walker/Gleaner Writer
Craig Fugate, disaster preparedness management expert.

Craig Fugate, former director of the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency, says that Jamaicans need to formulate a community-based approach to disaster management and rely less on government intervention.

"... If we only focus on what Government is doing, what I call government-centric problem-solving, the bigger the disaster, the more likely we are going to fail," Fugate told The Gleaner in an interview yesterday.

"I think part of this is because we don't think of the public as a resource. We think of them as somebody we got to take care of, but in every disaster that I have been in, the fastest response has been neighbour helping neighbour," said Fugate.

He argued that if everybody was prepared to the best of his ability, it would allow Government to focus on the people that have the fewest resources.

The disaster management expert with over three decades of experience is familiar with the reluctance of citizens to heed evacuation warnings and argued that Jamaicans needed to be able to visualise the possible impact of a hurricane.

Fugate explained: "One of the things we found that was very effective was in some of the communities, they went around to the utility poles and they put how high the water would be based on the category of the hurricane. So you're driving around town and you're looking up [and a] category three hurricane is like ten feet up on the pole. Those are very low-cost things you can do."

He emphasised that disaster-related messages needed to be personalised so that they resonate with citizens and move them to act.

Fugate advised: "I think as Government, that we sometimes shy away from telling people why we are telling them to evacuate. Hurricane Ivan hit Florida after it hit here (Jamaica). It was very chilling to listen to people calling 911 as the storm was coming ashore, calling to be rescued and being told, 'We cannot come out. The storm is already here. It is too late'."