Young talents brainstorm on recovery after hurricane

THE HAGUE–St. Maarten students and young professionals gathered at EquipSXM, a forum hosted by Unified Sint Maarten Connection (USC), last week Saturday to discuss and formulate ideas for community preparedness and rebuilding post-Hurricane Irma.

EquipSXM is the fourth in a series of St. Maarten Day forum collaborations between USC and Pelicarus, an organisation focused on students/young professionals of French St. Martin origin based in France. Saturday’s event was held at the St. Maarten House in The Hague.
Considering the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, this year’s forum, hosted in The Hague by USC for students and young professionals, was created with the aim of discussing topics that have not yet received the focus they deserve. About 50 persons attended. Topics covered included education on sustainable survival skills, mental preparedness, and communication protocol before, during and after a disaster.
After a hearty St. Maarten Day breakfast catered by A Touch of St. Maarten, the event took off with a welcome by USC-NL Chapter Director Chistella Garard. “Although far from St. Maarten/St. Martin geographically, we hold St. Maarten dear to our hearts and our contributions to the island matter. Today we’ll celebrate St. Maarten/St. Martin Day by discussing ways how to better equip the island community for the hurricane season,” said Garard.
A presentation and discussion led by keynote speaker Hans Muller of CrisProfs followed. Using his background in crisis management and his current position as the head of counter-terrorism at the North-Holland Police Department, he spoke about crisis and public order management. His talk focused on what actions to take before (prevention, pro-action and warning) and after (economic recovery, emergency repair and public order) a disaster presented through the bowtie model.
Muller then facilitated discussion among attendees about building effective warning systems, centralising aid and building awareness among the general population. Attendees also discussed building a more personal, transparent relationship with government to regain confidence in the country’s leaders.
The forum continued with a communication focus from the second speaker, Raul A. James, an embedded software engineer with a background in electrical engineering, who spoke on telecommunications in relation to hurricanes. His talk focused on the importance of getting (tele)communication up as soon as possible post-hurricanes and how simpler forms of communications can be used in times of disaster.
James emphasised the importance of secure underground connections, redundant infrastructures and potential alternative networks such as a Mesh network that allows for communication via SMS.
Following this talk, the attendees were divided into groups for a break-out session where they discussed communications in a broad sense and brainstormed solutions to problems the island currently faces.
The topic of sustainability and survival were covered by a variety of speakers. Sheldon Ellis, a civil engineer with work experience at the Ministry of Housing, Physical Planning and Environment VROMI, the Simpson Bay causeway and Windward Roads, gave a talk on a sustainable approach to rebuilding. He spoke of areas where St. Maarten could improve and learn from Aruba regarding marketing sustainability, innovative business models and legislation.
Djeannio A. Hobson spoke about education on sustainable survival with respect to natural disasters. He emphasised that the focus should be a macro level to improve infrastructure. With an apt “The Three Little Pigs” analogy, he highlighted inconsistent standards for construction of homes and lack of awareness of minimum standards. He further called for stricter, up-to-date building codes as well as better enforcement of these standards and accountability.
The sustainability and survival portion of the forum was closed off with survival tips from Ruben Schaminee a sports coordinator and scout. He first went over survival tips for during a hurricane, including having a designated safe house with food and water for five days, important documents, a whistle and a first aid kit. He gave a demonstration of the best ways to tie rope and secure roofs with tarpaulin.
Maartje Bakker, who has lived and worked in St. Maarten, spoke about mental preparedness with a focus on children and teens. She spoke of her work with other psychologists on the island to prepare packages and kits for children dealing with post-hurricane trauma. She talked about building trust to understand individual needs, emphasising that “initiatives are only successful if the community and all members feel safe and secure and have the ability to cope with stressful situations.” Bakker urged authorities to put mental health care on the agenda.
During a second break-out session, the attendees discussed solutions and ideas regarding the issues post-Irma. These thoughts included the need for research to be conducted and realistic time-frames for the implementation of new standards. The need for development of the appropriate legal framework was also discussed.
The results of discussions will be published as a report by USC within the next month.
EquipSXM was closed off with a speech by Minister Plenipotentiary Henrietta Doran-York honouring St. Maarten Day. She highlighted the history of the day and the unity between the French and Dutch sides of the island.

Source: The Daily Herald