Disaster system individual units worked well in St. Eustatius, Saba

 

~~But outside operation, coordination lacked~~

The indi­vidual components of the disaster management system in St. Eustatius and Saba functioned well before, dur­ing and after last year’s three major hurricanes, due to the great efforts on an island lev­el, but considerable improve­ment is needed in the coop­eration and coordination between the islands and with the Netherlands. And, the dependence on St. Maarten should be reduced.

These are some of the con­clusions of the Inspectorate of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security after an evaluation of the implemen­tation of the disaster and cri­sis plans in St. Eustatius and Saba shortly before, during and after Hurricanes Irma, Josh and Maria in September last year. Saba Island Gover­nor Jonathan Johnson and the National Government Representative (“Rijksverte­genwoordiger”) had also re­quested an evaluation.

Until Hurricane Irma, the islands’ disaster system never had to act upon a large event. The Justice and Security In­spectorate didn’t include St. Maarten in its evaluation, since it has no jurisdiction in this autonomous country in the Kingdom. Some of the Inspectorate’s recommenda­tions do relate to St. Maarten where it concerns the need to reduce dependence on the larger sister island in areas such as transportation and communication.

Broken electrical poles, loose galvanized zinc that went fly­ing and fallen trees in St. Eustatius after Hurricane Irma hit the island on September 6, 2017. (Photo by Althea

“The Inspectorate conclud­ed that all parties prepared well for the arrival of Hurri­cane Irma and that the plans and procedures in the Carib­bean Netherlands are largely present. The continuity of the crisis organisation, even though under pressure, was not jeopardised thanks to the great efforts of all involved. I express my appreciation for the way the islands handled the hurricane crisis,” stated Minister of Security and Jus­tice Ferd Grapperhaus in a recent letter that he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament along with the Inspectorate’s report. The Inspectorate was very positive about the function­ing of the individual disaster management entities in the Caribbean Netherlands and implied that without their hard work, some 20 days in a row, the situation would have been worse. “The utmost was demanded of people, but the continuity was never at risk,” stated the Inspectorate, which just like the minister gave the emergency system entities a big compliment. However, the cooperation and feedback between the islands, with the National Government Representative in Bonaire and with the Netherlands needs improve­ment. “The Inspectorate concludes that the system of disaster management doesn’t completely function as it should as regulated in the Safety Law BES,” it was stated in the 59-page report. “In practice, the authorities on the islands managed to deal with the consequences of the hurricanes in a speedy manner, but not thanks to a well-functioning disaster management system. Bluntly speaking, St. Eustatius and Saba were ‘lucky’ that a lot had to be arranged for the devastated St. Maarten and that they could hitch a ride, ‘lucky also’ that there were no fatal victims or badly in­jured persons,” it was stated in the report.

The coordination and co­operation at the time of the hurricanes could have been more efficient. “There were discussions about roles, tasks and responsibilities, and there was a lack of clar­ity regarding the prioritising and transport,” it was stated in the report. Thanks to the preparatory work of the hos­pitals in Statia, Saba, but also Bonaire, the medical emer­gency evacuation of patients was arranged.

The Inspectorate also looked at the role of the Na­tional Government Repre­sentative at the time, Gilbert Isabella. The latter was only in position in a limited man­ner and he formally didn’t scale up to coordination lev­el 3, while the circumstances did qualify for such. The Representative mostly for­warded the requests for as­sistance from Statia and Saba to The Hague and provided feedback to the islands.

Logistically things were in­sufficiently prepared and ar­ranged. “Logistics appeared a separate problem due to the loss of the St. Maarten airport. The supplying of goods, but also of people wasn’t a given anymore. Apart from a stock build-up, logistics are not included in the plans, and neither is an exterior coordination point. This makes it hard to coor­dinate and prioritise logistic requests.”

The focus on logistics from the Netherlands was mainly focused on St. Maarten. “Logically so because this island was the hardest hit. However, this put Saba and St. Eustatius in a dependent position, dependent on what was supplied to St. Maarten and whatever share they could get of that.” Another problem was the reserves of water and medication in Statia and Saba which were depleted within a week. The cisterns were largely contam­inated.

The loss of the communica­tion network on the islands had already been predicted in an earlier report. The loss of the telecommunica­tion masts in St. Maarten made things worse: not only did the islands have internal communication problems because the networks were down, but also the contact with the Netherlands and in­ternational communication was difficult.

The Inspectorate presented six main recommendations: arrange the operational co­ordination, make the telecommunications network and transport less dependent on St. Maarten, arrange for adequate connection facili­ties for contacts between the emergency services, take an inventory of the nearby admission possibilities for emergency patients, and design a more robust crisis organisation with reserve teams, for example.

The Inspectorate discov­ered a shortcoming in the National Safety Profile of the Netherlands: this plan only includes safety risks in the Netherlands, but not the Caribbean risks such as hur­ricanes and tsunamis.

The minister promised Par­liament that he would discuss the report’s findings with the islands’ authorities and the National Government Rep­resentative and would ask them to include the recom­mendations in preparing for the new hurricane season.

The Daily Herald.

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