We are delighted that ground finally has been broken for a new National Emergency Operations Centre.
The project has been needed for more than a decade.
In fact, by the time Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, Department of Disaster Management officials had been warning for at least seven years that the agency’s former facility in McNamara would not survive a major disaster.
Irma proved them right in a terrifying manner: The building was gutted, and 25 DDM staffers and other senior officials had to run to a nearby house during the eye of the storm.
They were lucky no one was killed.
After Irma, the NEOC moved temporarily into the Dr. Orlando Smith Hospital. Now the DDM offices, which typically serve as the centre’s base, are housed in another building in Road Town.
But the Virgin Islands urgently needs a safe NEOC facility that will withstand major disasters including hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
The planned 18,028-square-foot building — which as before will also house DDM offices — seems fit for purpose: Officials have said it will meet the latest International Building Code and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Building Code, and it will be designed to withstand wind speeds of 220 miles per hour.
On Tuesday, ground was broken on the nearly $10 million project, which is funded by the Caribbean Development Bank’s $65 million Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Loan. We look forward to timely completion within the two-year timeline leaders have promised.
Moving forward, we also hope the NEOC rebuild — one of the largest hurricane recovery projects so far — will serve as a positive example for building back stronger.
But it also shines a spotlight on other delayed recovery projects that urgently need to be completed as well.
They include schools, fire stations, ferry docks and libraries, as well as derelict boat removal and others. And with the $65 million CDB loan soon to be tapped out, it is unclear how these projects will be funded.
The government, then, must source further recovery funding as a matter of urgency, either by accessing the £300 million recovery loan guarantee offered by the United Kingdom or by finding another alternative.
The public-sector recovery is far behind where it should be, but it is not too late to get back on track and build back stronger.
We hope the NEOC project marks a turning point.