BELAIR–The first Taking Charge Disaster Preparedness Conference started at the Belair Community Centre on Thursday morning with Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) members and several vital stakeholders within the EOC framework attending.
The EOC consists of 10 Emergency Support Function (ESF) groups. The idea behind the conference is for parties to work out internal plans, preparations and concerns for the upcoming 2018 hurricane season.
The goal of the Conference is to also have open discussions and presentations that will ultimately lead to a National Disaster Operation Plan that will be available as a reference manual for the entire community.
Governor Eugene Holiday attended the opening along with the Council of Ministers.
EOC chairperson Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin, who is responsible for disaster management, opened the conference and hoped for structured and realistic solutions by partners.
Marlin said in her address, “If each of us were to take a trip back into time, we would all agree that where we are today would be the unthinkable. Well, September 6 did happen, Hurricanes Irma and Maria gave us a wake-up call that may still have some of us in shock today. As funny as that may sound, for the majority of us here in this room “being in shock” simply is not an option.
“In fact, failure is not an option, as the people of St. Maarten are depending on us to be prepared for whatever disaster may come our way. This morning we are gathered here to firstly reflect on what occurred pre, during and post the passing of the strongest hurricane to this island we call home and we are also here to ensure that we not only pay keen attention to our shortcomings but also to build on the foundation of positive actions that were executed.”
“We not only bring together members of the EOC, but we also include key external stakeholders. There are organizations and departments in and out of Government that were not written into the previous planning and preparations, but definitely after our experience of last year need to be either at the table or fitted in structurally into the existing EOC organisation, as we must fill those missing gaps.
“We must seize the moment and change the way things have been done in the past. The final objective is critical and a departure from business as usual, the establishing of a National Integrated EOC Operation Plan. Upon taking office, I was told we have a disaster plan. The question is, where is it?
“The answer is the “Rampenplan” that is a written law and policy that does not speak to the average citizen. Going forward, I have made the establishing of a National Disaster Plan a priority and it must be completed ASAP. Collectively we have an obligation to the citizens of St. Maarten to provide pertinent information in preparation of any disaster.
“This National Disaster Plan has to be the bedrock and reference manual to any communication plan being executed in the future. If done properly, I expect this National Disaster Plan to be a working document that can be adjusted yearly by any ESF group as the circumstances may require. As a written document it can used as a reference in Government, our schools and the private sector to prepare for any disaster.
“These plans are commonplace in other countries; therefore, St. Maarten should not be any different. In fact, we always pride ourselves on being the best. Well, today I declare that we will have the best comprehensive National Disaster Plan.”
The conference closes today, Friday.