Exercise Caraïbes 2022 will take place in the ruins of the former La Belle Creole Hotel June 12-16.
MARIGOT–Préfet Vincent Berton convened a hurricane preparedness meeting last week with representatives of the main services such as Gendarmerie, Police Territorial, Fire Department (pompiers) and sea rescue service SNSM, to discuss logistics on the ground in the event of a major hurricane strike. A field organisation plan drawn up by the Préfecture services was also presented to business leaders.
While the Collectivité traditionally holds its annual hurricane preparedness meeting on June1, the Préfet wants to be fully prepared as early as possible. He had already announced Exercise Caraïbes 2022, which will take place June 7-18 involving the French Army of the Antilles and contribution of equipment, boots on the ground and air and naval support from five nations.
This major operation in the Antilles will simulate the response to two major back-to-back hurricanes, but St. Martin is only involved June 12-16 where the exercises mobilising some 190 marines will take place in the former La Belle Creole property for minimal inconvenience.
Berton was joined by First Vice-President of the Collectivité Alain Richardson in the presentation. It was noted that in the event of a major natural disaster it is the Préfet as State representative who is director of operations as stipulated by law. The different colour-coded levels of vigilance (from yellow to purple) are also controlled by the Préfet.
The colours correspond to actions the population has to take depending on severity of the situation. More specific information on these warning signals will be outlined by the Collectivité, as will information on the seven hurricane shelters that can accommodate 1,500 people.
The new construction to replace the media library in Concordia is earmarked to have a hurricane shelter, but will not be ready in time for this season.
The Collectivité is already in the preparation phase and the contingency plan will be communicated soon, the territorial safeguard plan will be available as of June 1, a booklet will be available for download and distribution to the population.
Both Berton and Richardson agreed that close attention must be paid to the port and airport infrastructure, as these are a priority as a means of access for emergency services and reinforcements. As such, in the case of the airport the runway must be cleared of debris to have it operational. Likewise for the port, where a training exercise is planned for the landing of French- and Dutch-side soldiers on June 20 and 21.
As far as alerts for the population are concerned, the Collectivité already announced the installation of three sirens in addition to the other systems. These will be installed at the old hospital on Rue Fort Louis, in French Quarter and in Grand Case. The persons in charge of operating these sirens will be taking a training course in Martinique June 1-2.
The preferred medium for the dissemination of alerts, but also for general information, is the radio. To compensate for any interruption, 18 people will be dedicated to restoring communications. Three telecommunication specialists will be positioned in a bunker on Pic Paradis and 15 people will be at the airport. Since Hurricane Irma, networks have been largely buried and cables duplicated so that Internet connections are impacted as little as possible.
Richardson expressed the desire for dedicated training within the framework of the adapted military regiment (RSMA) from Guadeloupe, to have a structure in the territory that would allow for better management of the population while waiting for outside help. The idea is to be able to strengthen the territory’s resilience. The RSMA was present in the territory for the clean-up after Irma.
Another aspect, drawn from the post-Irma experience, is the need for stronger implementation of means to prevent looting, with Gendarmerie and police patrols being more visible in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane and installation of roadblocks where only authorised persons can pass.