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CaribWatch-ing THE SEAS

Caribbean emergency alerts and disaster monitoring app launched in time for hurricane season

BY GORGETTE BECKFORD Environment writer gorgetteb@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014    

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WANT to monitor disasters in the Caribbean? There's an app for that.

It's called CaribWatch and according to conceptualiser Heather Pinnock, a Caribbean sustainability advocate and director of Hill60Bump Ltd, it was developed primarily to foster and mobilise youth response for Caribbean emergency alerts and disaster monitoring.

The app was recently launched via The Caribbean Crisis Communication: The Digital Evolution Google Hangout which Pinnock co-hosted with Phase 3 Productions co-founder and media/communications specialist Dr Marcia Forbes.

Pinnock envisions CaribWatch serving as a communication hub - #teamCaribWatch -- not only before or during disasters, but also in immediate and continuous post-disaster activities. The hub, she reasoned, would facilitate the precept of being "our brother's keeper".

Forbes, meanwhile, urged youths to get involved and implored 'netizens' to "use social media responsibly to accurately disseminate and not post erroneous information to acquire site hits".

The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane season began on June 1 and runs until November 30. The areas covered include the North Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. There are 21 predetermined names of storms for the season: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred.

On average, 10 named storms occur each season, with about five becoming hurricanes and two or three becoming major hurricanes of category 3 or greater.

According to http://www.sciencedaily.com, recent research revealed that hurricanes with feminine names are likely to cause significantly more deaths than hurricanes with masculine names, apparently because storms with feminine names are perceived as less threatening. However, all hurricanes are potentially dangerous, so warnings must be heeded.

Executive director of Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) Ronald Jackson, who also participated in the hangout, said below-average activity is expected this season. Still, he said, the importance of communication and the "need for better focus on alertness" during the hurricane season cannot be overstated. Referencing the devastating Eastern Caribbean Christmas floods in 2013, Jackson said it reflected a disintegration of communication.

"Social media can help with alerts during [these] disasters," he said, lauding Pinnock and her team for launching the app.

The end-of-year flood, which was an unusual occurrence, ravaged St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, and Dominica to a lesser extent.

Pinnock stressed the importance of using social media for real-time communication, especially in such unusual circumstances, and explained that the app could have proven helpful as it is designed to "push alerts" when there is "clear and present danger". She added that app users would not be quick to ignore an alert as the app "does not trigger a signal for every activity".

Another hangout guest, Territorial Development Director for the Caribbean, Major Bruce Carpenter -- who helms the development and public relations arm of the Salvation Army -- echoed the importance of social media in the organisation's day-to-day operations. He said that while Facebook and Twitter are used to rally support and to post shelter locations and recovery activity updates, CaribWatch is integral for highlighting where the Salvation Army's presence is needed next.

"We are usually in [the affected] areas for the longterm," stated Carpenter. The major added that the organisation had built a warehouse in Haiti and that recovery activities were almost finished in the island.

The CaribWatch app is available in the iOS and Android stores.

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