The Atlantic Hurricane Season officially starts on June 1, and forecasters are predicting an active year.
The Virgin Islands must prepare now, especially given that storms have been coming early in recent years. To that end, everyone has important responsibilities.
Leaders must chart the way forward. However, the premier, the governor and the police commissioner all have assumed their posts after Hurricane Irma devastated the territory in 2017. We encourage them to speak to their predecessors and staff members in order to learn all they can about that year’s lessons, which must be institutionalised to the point that they are never forgotten.
Meanwhile, the government has many tasks: ensuring that the police and other emergency services are fully prepared; clearing the ghuts across the territory; working with construction companies to ensure that worksites can be a quickly secured if a storm looms; removing dangerous derelict boats from the territory’s waters; adapting existing plans for the Covid-19 pandemic, and many others.
Also urgent are the ongoing repairs to the community centres that serve as shelters. By the end of the month, the government should provide a full update on which shelters are ready for occupancy — and contingency plans for residents who live near any that aren’t.
Since the pandemic seems unlikely to abate before the end of the storm season, all shelter arrangements will need to provide for social distancing and other related safety protocols.
As government prepares, businesses, churches and other non-profit organisations also have an important role to play. They must review and update their own disaster plans; ensure that their premises can be secured quickly and effectively in the event of a storm; and communicate with staff members on preparation and response strategies.
Each and every resident also must take personal responsibility for the safety of themselves and their loved ones. This means securing homes by protecting windows and doors, clearing debris out of yards, and checking roofs and other areas that might be vulnerable to high winds.
It also means having a family disaster plan and stocking emergency supplies of water; non-perishable food; child and pet care items; battery-powered lights, radios and chargers; and a first aid kit, among other essentials.
To understand the urgent need to prepare for the worst, one need only remember the collective trauma of Hurricane Irma.
We pray that the territory will never see such a storm again. But in this era of climate change, it could very well see one that is even larger.