BELIZE CITY, Mon. June 1, 2015–The 2015 hurricane season began today and in recognition of the potential threats that might be faced during the upcoming months, the City Emergency Management Organization (CEMO) held its yearly press conference at City Hall to discuss noteworthy hurricane preparedness strategies for city residents, as well as its plans in case of any such natural disaster.
According to CEMO chairman, Mayor Darrell Bradley, the organization commenced its preparations in January of this year when the 13 hurricane shelters across Belize City underwent inspections to evaluate their readiness.
Bradley said that the primary purpose of the shelters – which include 5 on the north side and 8 on the south side of the city – is for “safety and not comfort”, and if there is a need to use these structures, they will be opened on an incremental basis depending on the severity of the storm.
One major concern relating to those shelters is the sturdiness of the structure, and therefore, CEMO Liaison Officer, Wayne Usher, emphasized that the inspections were carried out by technical advisors from the Housing Department, the Fire Department, and the Ministry of Health, as well as an engineer and a representative of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) who, he said, were satisfied that all aspects, including the structural integrity, of the buildings, were able to withstand up to a category 2 hurricane. If it so happens that the storm develops into a category 3 or stronger, then mandatory evacuation might be requested, the officials said.
A phenomenon that is also being looked at is the potential for flooding in the low-lying areas of the city. This was elaborated on by City Councilor responsible for Emergency Management, Philip Willoughby.
He said, “We have been looking at the flooding situation and working closely with NEMO and their national emergency coordinators, so we will forge a way forward to address this anomaly because we want to be better prepared to deal with it [flooding] when it shows itself.”
Those measures, he cited, consist of enacting flood mitigation projects and creating emergency evacuation routes via monthly meetings between CEMO and NEMO personnel.
CEMO officials have also stressed that the cooperation of the public in efforts at natural disaster preparedness is a key factor, and citizens were advised to be proactive in ensuring that they have a hurricane plan for their families, as well as adequate supplies, such as food and water, in case of a storm.
That issue was addressed because Bradley mentioned that those who are employed tend to request time off from work to gather their provisions when the storm is approaching; however, the ideal approach is to have all the necessary food items and other supplies prior to the approach of a hurricane.
Although CEMO officials have maintained that they are geared up for any possible scenario this hurricane season, one issue that remains to be addressed involves the special attention or medication that is required by ailing or special needs individuals who might be staying at the various hurricane shelters, since no plan has yet been drafted to manage those cases.
In case of a storm, CEMO has advised all city residents to stay tuned to the regular reports from the local meteorological service, and those who plan to go to the shelters are asked to take at least three days’ supply of food, water and other necessities.
Of note is that the emergency family plan and the list of hurricane shelters in Belize City are listed on the websites of CEMO and the Belize City Council.