Update those building codes, JDF urges

Update those building codes, JDF urges

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, October 20, 2019

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A call is being made for the synthesisation and updating of building codes across the Caribbean to ensure robust infrastructure that can withstand destruction in the advent of catastrophic natural disasters.

The proposition was made by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) commanders during an interview with the Jamaica Observer following their return from the JDF's disaster relief and response mission in The Bahamas.

“There is need for some amount of standardisation of building codes and establishment of building codes in areas where none might exist. But certainly our region is vulnerable to earthquake, hurricanes so at a minimum our buildings should be built with some amount of hurricane resistance and earthquake resistance to allow us to survive these events when they happen in the future,” Major Markland Lloyd, acting commanding officer 1st engineer regiment JDF with responsibility for the deployment and redeployment of troops to and from The Bahamas said. “It doesn't mean that the buildings won't be damaged but the level of devastation that is noted and the level of losses in terms of lives and property will be minimised if we do take those two things into account. Hurricane resistance and earthquake resistance, and fire as well which usually follows an earthquake.”

The level of destruction that Hurricane Dorian brought on The Bahamas has resulted in over 50 deaths and hundreds of people homeless and missing. The damage is estimated at US$7 billion. On the issue of building codes, The Bahamas Building Code first developed in the early 1970s and updated in 1987, is modelled off the South Florida Building Code. It was not until 2003 that The Bahamas Building Code was updated to reflect the American Society of Civil Engineers 7 load standards that recommended designs to withstand winds of 150 mph and the mandatory installation of hurricane shutters for all new buildings. However, Hurricane Dorian packed winds of 185 mph far surpassing what buildings were built to withstand.

Further, when asked to paint a true representation of the scale of devastation encountered in the affected islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, DART commander Major Damain Bromley said in sections of Abaco “everything was flat”.

“The mud and the cay – Haitians were settled in those areas. All those areas were flat. When we visited the police station in Marsh Harbour, the roof was gone, everything was damaged. When we looked at the buildings, if it was not totally damaged the inside was turned upside down and flooded so everything we saw, those were affected and that is significant.

“The concrete-type structures I saw had less steel than we use in Jamaica. The block pockets were not always filled. So there were some places you saw the foundation only as opposed to remnants of the building itself. The wooden structures that we saw, those were devastated, most were completely demolished. However, there were some that stood up even in the same spaces where we had those that were completely gone,” Major Bromley said.

Against this background Major Bromley said natural disasters common to the region should not be taken lightly.

“What was outstanding was the level of devastation caused by a category 5 hurricane. We should take it seriously. Take global warming seriously, climate change. Since we [region] had two in 2017 (Irma and Maria) and again in 2019 we can start preparing ourselves for another such hurricane in short order. We should not take it lightly, we should continue to prepare and get all the other agencies involved in our overall preparedness for disaster response. We have to treat it seriously and be prepared,” he said.

Further, Major Lloyd said the region must continue to collaborate to embolden the response mechanisms in emergencies.

“ODPEM (Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management) meets periodically and organises workshops to ensure persons maintain the awareness of the challenges. I also am aware of instances where we have drills with the airports and maritime to rehearse responses. This must be maintained right through,” he said.

As part of the Regional Security System, the JDF DART was deployed to The Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian whose category 5 winds and storm surges devastated a number of the country's islands. The JDF DART worked closely with The Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and a number of other partner nations and agencies. The team successfully built three transition accommodations for displaced residents, performed minor health care operations including the delivery of a newborn infant, and helped to restore security and authority in the communities of ABC and DEF in Great Abaco following reports of vandalism and looting. The DART also assisted in the rescue efforts of a family of four, including one disabled senior citizen, who was trapped beneath a collapsed structure in Grand Bahama.

But amidst the work done, Major Bromley said the scale of devastation drove home the need to always be prepared, considering the impact of climate change on the region.

“The greatest lesson would be our overall preparedness to deal with an environment that everything is damaged. It is important we deploy with everything we need,” he said.

Moreover, the mission was deemed bittersweet for the 120 troops deployed.

“JDF soldiers are some of the best trained disaster response personnel in the country and are always eager to employ their range of skills and abilities. But without a doubt, the mission was heartbreaking for the troops given the extent of damages and lives lost over the period. The men are nonetheless very happy to have been able to bring some measure of comfort to our Caribbean friends,” said Major Basil Jarrett, civil military cooperation and media affairs officer for the JDF.

In addition, Major Lloyd said one of the most striking things was the gratitude of the Bahamian people, which made the mission worthwhile for the soldiers on the ground.

He added: “We continue to improve our ability to respond. We now have developed a secondary and tertiary DART that if we are deployed we are still able to respond to emergency situations should they arise elsewhere.”

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