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May 26, 2004

NEMO expands role in emergency management

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While all eyes may be focussed on the highly publicised education summit, fifty miles to the west another group is meeting quietly in Belmopan. We may not even think about what they’re doing, but when disaster strikes… we’ll be glad they made their preparations.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

Though days away from the official start of the season, the countries of Central America and the Caribbean are already bracing themselves for what is predicted to be an active hurricane season.

Here in Belize, local authorities are advising citizens to prepare for the deadly storms. Of particular importance is the family plan.

Major Gilbert Swazo, Training and Operations Officer, NEMO

“Even if you don’t have anywhere to go, but somebody within the family will be able to say okay, you will be the one to ensure that the pets or the younger children are taken care of if the parents are not around. All those eventualities must be planned for, and the Red Cross is instrumental in supporting us with several family plans along with all the district coordinators that we have throughout the districts.”

As part of its preparation, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) is holding its third annual conference with a focus on incident scene command management. According to training and operations officer, Major Gilbert Swazo, NEMO is adding to its duties, and the information shared will help them meet the demand of more frequent disasters, such as major traffic accidents and other eventualities.

Major Gilbert Swazo

“As a result, it is not only response to hurricane events, but it could be a mass casualty incident, it could be a major fire, it could be oil spills, it could be different incidents. And once it has overwhelmed the capacity of any one agency, NEMO can and may be called upon to activate with a view to respond to any of those incidents.”

Held through the Partnership for Peace programme and sponsored by the U.S. southern command, Deputy Director of Homeland Security in Louisiana, Colonel J. Mayeaux, is just one of the participants who will put his experience on the table. One of his recommendations is to establish a civilian commander to coordinate the agencies responding to the emergency.

Colonel J. Mayeaux, Dep. Dir., Homeland Security, Louisiana

“Instead of the police setting up an on scene command post, fire setting up an on scene command post, E.M.S. having an on scene command post, it all funnels through one place so decisions can be made quicker, information flows better, and everybody can really focus on what they know how to do really well and focus on that area and what one guy can get them the resources and support them.”

Belize has the benefit of excellent working relationships with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) and the Central American Emergency Coordination Unit. Both affiliations deepen the pool of resources and sound advice.

Major Gilbert Swazo

“This is the third year that such an event is taking place. And we usually invite countries from Central America and the Caribbean with the view that we are able to share experiences, concept of operation, so then we can all return home to revise what we have available and then use the experiences from all those different countries to tailor it to our reality here in Belize.”

Colonel J. Mayeaux

“The next step is to reach beyond our borders here in Belize and help our neighbours, who better to help you than our neighbour in a disaster, they are more attuned to what your needs are and they are closer. So the ability to do that will come through experience, building close working relationships, like we are doing in these conferences here. They get to know each other and establish a network, develop rapport amongst each other so that if Guatemala needs something, Belize would be able to help them and likewise, Guatemala to help Belize.”

Louisiana?s own vulnerability to hurricanes urges Colonel Mayeaux to leave Belizeans with this parting shot.

Colonel J. Mayeaux

“One of the first things we tell all our citizens is to have a hurricane preparedness kit, bottled water, canned food, dry goods, flashlight, and a radio in a kit somewhere so if something happens, you lose power, you have a way to stay informed. That?s the other piece, you need to stay informed, keep up on what the current weather is, listen to your local authorities. If they tell you to evacuate, move to higher ground, evacuate.”

The NEMO workshop ends on Thursday with an emergency simulation exercise on Forest Drive in Belmopan in which the participants will put their recently acquired skills into action. On June first and second NEMO will host another conference, this one on disaster damage assessment.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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