By Tad Stoner
Cayman’s new hurricane emergency centre opened on the second floor of the Government Administration Building on June 1, marking the start of the 2016 storm season.
The National Emergency Operations Centre comprises a 425-square-foot communications centre adjoining a 925-square-foot operation room, and will be integral to coordinating the public response to hurricanes, air crashes, tsunamis, pandemics and port accidents, and making prescribing preparations for earthquakes, security, environmental hazards and flooding.
Government originally decided to move the previous coordinating centre, located in the Centre Fire Station headquarters on Owen Roberts Drive, after Hurricane Ivan in 204 revealed shortcomings in the 600-square-foot facility, which at times had been forced to accommodate as many as 40 people.
“The NEOC at the fire station required using the offices of senior Cayman Islands Fire Services officers, so they were displaced every time there was an activation,” said McCleary Frederick, director of Hazard Management Cayman Islands. “It was also extremely cramped and uncomfortable.”
The National Emergency Operations Centre becomes operational once there is an event that precipitates a national response.
“Once an activation occurs, the call-takers (made up of the Cadet Corp), the cluster heads and the various emergency support teams will attend the NEOC, [but only] on activation,” said Mr. Frederick.
“Cluster heads” are the four chief administrators, overseeing 18 subcommittees responsible for various phases of disaster relief such as search and rescue; security and law enforcement; and medical relief.
Other occupants in the freshly anointed space will include members of the emergency support team – including senior representatives of such “first-response agencies” as police and fire services – alongside “an operational group which includes the NEOC manager,” Mr. Frederick said.
Also present, according to the 11-volume HCMI disaster plans, will be members of those 18 subcommittees; a seven-member policy group to aid decision-making and resolve conflicts; alternative personnel to ensure full staffing during 12-hour shifts; and even trained volunteers.
The National Weather Service, the Office of Telecommunications and a 911 emergency telephone bank are also scheduled for NEOC accommodation.
“In a significant event, as many as 30 people may be present at the NEOC and this will include several communicators from the Join Communications Service Subcommittee,” said Mr. Frederick.
“When activated, the NEOC utilises the existing Portfolio of the Civil Service Training Room in addition to the other available conference rooms in the GAB Conference Centre,” he said. “Obviously the NEOC takes precedence over all other uses during an activation. The call-centre area serves as a back-up 911 Emergency Communications Centre if needed.”
According to the Director General of the Cayman Islands National Weather Service John Tibbetts, the forecast for the season “calls for 12 named storms, five of which are expected to become hurricanes and two major hurricanes (winds 111 miles per hour or higher).”
The CINWS, he said, anticipates “average activity.”
“The current weakening El Niño is likely to transition to either neutral or La Niña conditions by the peak of the … season,” he said, but cautioned residents that “it only takes one direct hit to change our perception of the season … [they] should … evaluate their own level of preparedness and create or amend their hurricane plans.”