PERSONS with disabilities in Portmore, St Catherine, are to be a part of a pilot early warning system being implemented by Panos Caribbean, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the Combined Disabilities Association (CDA).
The project is being funded by the Canada Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Fund to the tune of Canadian $75,000.
It will work with over 200 persons with disabilities and disaster response workers to better cater to the needs of the disabled during disasters, including hurricanes and flooding.
"There are two key outcomes, the first of which is to get the message of an early warning system to a very important sector of the population, which is so far unreached," said Ronald Jackson, director general of the ODPEM. "The second is to establish an evacuation protocol that can be replicated in other areas of the country."
The project will focus on the vulnerable areas of Waterford, Gregory Park and Bridgeport, and will be guided by the tsunami and evacuation plans that ODPEM already has f or Portmore.
The project is also expected to result in the building of a listing of disabled persons living in disaster-prone areas, training of the early response partners on how best to interact with the disabled community, as well as sharing climate and disaster information with disabled persons.
"The project will strengthen the weak areas of disaster risk preparation where persons with disabilities are concerned," said Gloria Goffe, executive director of the Combined Disabilities Association.
According to Goffe, many times the bathrooms in shelters are inaccessible for people in wheelchairs and persons with crutches. The toilet seats also tend to be uncomfortable for persons with disabilities.
Under the project, one of Portmore's most heavily used shelters, the Naggo Head Primary School, will be retrofitted with a ramp to ensure that it is accessible to the physically challenged. Portable potties will also be provided to the shelter as well as adjustments made to the bathroom to make it more comfortable for disabled persons.
The shelter will also be used as part of the simulation exercise for the early warning system.
"ODPEM is in discussion with an international company regarding the best software to be used in the early warning system. The system has to be designed so that disaster alert messages can be transmitted to the blind, the deaf and persons with physical challenges in an emergency," said Indi Mclymont-Lafayette, country co-ordinator of Panos Caribbean's Jamaica Office.
She explained that key persons in the three Portmore communities would be appointed as point persons to receive the disaster messages, then, depending on the threat level of the disaster, the decision would be taken to evacuate.
"So the simulations will be important to ensure that we have a system that works. Once we have tested this pilot, then we can apply the model islandwide and maybe even in the rest of the Caribbean," she said.
Mclymont-Lafayette explained that Portmore in south-eastern Jamaica was chosen based on its location and vulnerability.
"Portmore has over 250,000 persons, accounting for nearly 10 per cent of the country's population. Several neighbourhoods are in low-lying areas, prompting major and time-consuming evacuation exercises once a major climate hazard threatens. It is also noted to have a [high] concentration of persons with disabilities," she said.
The CDA itself reports that at least 5,000 persons with disabilities live in the three target communities in Portmore. Of those trained, 15 are expected to be deaf persons with the video phones equipping them to reach at least another 150 deaf persons in their network in a disaster.
Under the project, Panos will also work with the CDA to encourage persons to sign up during the ongoing process of updating the registry through media messages and other communication channels.
It will also engage in outreach to unregistered disabled persons both in and outside the designated communities in Portmore so that they can access relevant disaster information. The early warning system is expected to be fully operational by March 2013 when the project ends.
— Panos Caribbean