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Feb 7, 2018

Never Too Early: Emergency Managers Meet in Old Capital

Over the years, the Belize City Council and its City Emergency Management Organization has become the leading face of emergency management. The annual symposium hosted by CEMO for the last six years has covered topics from road safety to fire management. But Belize’s and the City’s primary threat remains hurricanes, and even though the council turns over in about a month, it’s never too early to plan professionally or personally. Also incorporated are plans to make buildings resilient to the effects of Mother Nature. Ahead of the start of the Hurricane Season, a two-day gathering began at the Biltmore today, which News Five attended. Aaron Humes reports.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

A familiar topic was addressed at the first day of the annual two-day CEMO symposium: hurricane preparedness, tied to the issue of climate change and resiliency. After a year when much of the Caribbean and wider Atlantic region was pummeled by devastating storms, experts gathered to assess how to fine-tune Belize’s preparedness plans.

 

Darrell Bradley

Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor

“The theme this year is on hurricane preparedness because that continues to be our major threat of a disaster. But the real objective and purpose of it is to bring together all stakeholders: we have representatives from NEMO, from our armed services, from the NGO community, from the private sector. We have representatives from other municipalities, and CEMO representatives and City Council staff. And the idea is that they would come together; they would do presentations, training, capacity building, they would come up with recommendations and they would raise public awareness on the issues of emergency management, emergency response and in this case hurricane preparedness. I think that the CEMO symposium, over the last six years, has occupied a very useful space, because very rarely [do] all our emergency management agencies come together in this kind of setting. We get tremendous support from the international community – PAHO continues to be supportive, the Taiwanese embassy. We have support from our educational institutions represented here this morning by the University of the West Indies. The idea of having a two-day workshop that looks at our emergency hurricane plan, that refines the plan, that brings together our stakeholders, and that provides a space where people can share their expertise and come up with recommendations – that’s very beneficial.”

 

Point man Philip Willoughby pointed to the growth of the national response led by the National Emergency Management Organization. As the size and scope of disasters has changed, he said, so has the preparedness and response.

 

Philip Willoughby

Philip Willoughby, CEMO Councilor

“Climate change is here and it’s real. So [are] hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, oil spills, mass casualties, floods, and other disasters morphed, and not limited to disease and terrorism and the list may go on – but by this I mean the latter. These disasters have changed in size, strength and speed, and so have we all here at NEMO and CEMO.  Hence the reason now for us to build climate-resilient cities, towns and villages. Accomplishing this can be easy by simply following the building codes – not for the sake of laws or costs, but to ensure your home, your investments, can withstand earthquake tremors, hurricane-force winds, floods and fires.”

 

One of the Council’s proudest achievements in the area of emergency management, says Bradley, is its expansion of response to natural and occasionally man-made disasters.

 

Darrell Bradley

“I can recall that our emergency preparedness plan for a hurricane is much different than six years ago when I first became Mayor. We have included more representatives; this morning I singled out the president of the Belize Association for Persons with Diverse Abilities, because it was felt early on that we didn’t adequately address, especially in our shelters, persons with special needs – we have taken into consideration. We have looked at widening the dialogue, so we don’t only look at hurricanes. We have looked in the past at tsunamis, we’ve looked at fires, we’ve looked at serious traffic accidents. The CEMO symposium over the past six years has raised awareness on different types of emergencies because we want to raise attention to these things. A fundamental point is the importance of planning, the importance of having in place proper strategies, collaboration and partnership. And the importance also of individual awareness – I mentioned this in my presentation that the ultimate aim is that we would, in the public, raise awareness about the individual’s responsibility to make sure they are prepared. Something as simple as having a hurricane plan in your home – knowing who will pick up your children, where you will go, stockpiling food and water, having a shelter, having a radio, basic things in terms of something like that can really ensure that we are very effective in preventing loss of life and damage to property in the event of a disaster.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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