When hurricanes hit they leave an indelible mark on those who experience them. My parents and grandparents will always tell stories of Betsy. I and many Eleutherans of my generation will never forget Andrew. I’m sure many in Freeport will not soon forget the back to back hurricanes of Frances and Jeanne in 2004.
So it is that many in the Southern Bahamas that have just experienced Category 4 Joaquin will forever have this experience etched into their collective memory banks.
But we must not only remember these terrifying experiences but learn from them and continue to build our collective knowledge so that future generations will be better prepared for the inevitable acts of nature.
Hurricane Joaquin has provided us with a number of lessons that we can use to improve the way we prepare, respond and recover from hurricanes in the future.
Hurricanes Can Develop Quickly
When Prime Minister Christie said we were caught off guard many Bahamians including myself were incredulous. How? we asked. What was NEMA doing? Why wasn’t they prepared, why weren’t there more warnings? Who dropped the ball? Someone should be fired!
However, according to this timeline that The Nassau Guardian published it would appear that NEMA responded appropriately leading up to the storm. There were multiple alerts and warnings issued leading up to the storm and more than 10 on Thursday alone.
So what happened? How were we all caught off guard?
This hurricane appears to have befuddled meteorologists, it first appeared to be just a normal tropical depression then quickly escalated into a category 4 hurricane over a 24 – 48hr period.
My theory is that we as a society are used to the orderly development cycle of hurricanes (tropical disturbance to tropical depression to tropical storm and finally to hurricane) that takes at several days if not more than a week or more to complete.
We have to understand that although slow developing hurricanes are typical, they can also develop much more quickly and we have to be prepared for that moving forward. Especially with all the climate change taking place.
People Will Procrastinate
One of the reasons we were caught off guard was because we procrastinated. We know this.
Every hurricane its the same thing, the warnings go out all week then the day before the hurricane, sometimes hours before the hurricane is expected to make landfall, everyone is scrambling to finish preparations. This has been the case in almost every hurricane that I’m aware of. It is human nature to procrastinate.
So how do we overcome this?
Firstly, I think it starts with an acknowledgement that people do procrastinate, followed by a commitment to continuous communication and education to prior to a natural disaster. This is the only way to overcome this tendency.
thirdly, Its not enough to send out the regular warnings and hope people listen, we need to drill down on the islands and settlements themselves to identify champions to spread the message and get the ball moving from the ground level.
Which leads to my next major lesson.
Communicate On All Channels
To be effective the Government must embrace all forms of media. We can not simply rely on traditional media to get the message out any longer.
The government has to have a strategy for getting the message out via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, all of which are very very active in The Bahamas.
The simplest way to produce content for these channels is to have a website/facebook page and keep it up to date. Short 1 minute clips, memes and short articles updating the public could easily be posted to relevant agency websites and shared via the channels mentioned above.
I was shocked when friends on social media pointed out that the NEMA’s facebook page had not been updated since September 24th 2014! This is very unfortunate because there are many local and international persons who probably turned to that site for news only to be disappointed.
I’m sure if NEMA checks its analytics over the last few days they will see a spike in traffic from the thousands of people looking for information and finding none.
We need to embrace new media in the Bahamas. I’m happy to see the Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade has a twitter account and is actively tweeting.
This is the way forward.
Regular Official Updates
In the aftermath of the hurricane people are understandably anxious to hear from loved ones. There has to be a strategy to provide regular official updates to the public.
In the aftermath of Joaquin we heard that 8 people had died in long island and then that number jumped to 30. If there is no official communication, rumor will quickly fill the void.
Even if there is nothing to report officials should share their plans and strategies for recovery in order to boost the confidence of the public that help is on he way.
Some Things Are Bigger Than Politics
There are times when we have to move beyond politics. National tragedies like this one are one of those times. still there are people so deep in the political fight that they can’t seem to rise above it when it counts.
By the same token not every criticism of the Government is politically motivated. We have to be able to ask questions and have them answered. Its the only way to progress as a nation. I suspect in the days and weeks ahead there will be much questions and politricking around this hurricane but the aftermath of a national tragedy is not the time.
Now is the time to unite and focus on helping the people in need.
We Can Do Amazing Things Together
One of the most amazing and uplifting things that happened as a result of this storm is that we were reminded of what Bahamians are capable of when we work together.
Within 24hrs of the storm passing a group of private citizens had collected supplies and organized multiple airlifts to the affected areas. This was a purely private effort with no help from the Government. Just businesses and citizens coming together to tackle a serious issue.
Sadly, this also highlighted the seemingly lack of readiness by the government and official organizations but that’s a topic for another day.
It was devastating seeing the pictures of damages emerge from the affected areas but it was also uplifting to see the stories emerge of people doing so much to help.
I encourage you reading this to find a way to donate to charitable organization to help the out the victims of Hurricane Joaquin in the days and weeks ahead.
I’m sure there were many more teachable moments from this hurricane, I just hope that we learn the lessons they present to us.
What were your teachable moments for Hurricane Joaquin?
PS. post your link to people doing good or donation pages in the comments as well.