As activity in the tropical Atlantic intensifies, the island’s major utility companies have indicated their preparedness for severe weather conditions.
Addressing a special committee meeting of the National Disaster Risk Council at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in Kingston on Friday, key private and public-sector entities outlined their state of readiness for Tropical Depression Nine, which strengthened into Tropical Storm Ian.
While the country was spared the worst effects of the system, it has since developed into a major hurricane and has impacted Cuba and Florida.
Jamaica Public Service (JPS) senior manager, George Kates, said that the company has invested heavily in its disaster-preparedness plans, which were continually developed using many years of lessons.
He said that critical staff and third-party contractors are mobilised and emergency operation centres throughout the island are ready to be activated when needed.
Additionally, he indicated that in disaster, the JPS maintains contact with the security forces and the National Works Agency as this allows for ease of movement by clearing roads.
“I can comfortably say that the JPS is in an advanced stage of readiness. We are ready to respond to any eventualities,” he said.
National Water Commission (NWC) Chairman, Mark Barnett, in noting the entity’s readiness, said that measures have been put in place to prepare for adverse weather conditions.
He noted that key townships across the island have been equipped with standby generators and that all NWC facilities in deep rural or urban areas will continue to operate as long as it is safe to do so.
He pointed out, however, that where the weather becomes severe, some facilities may experience disruptions or may be forced to shut down, especially those that rely heavily on reasonable quality water flow from rivers.
“We are making strides to ensure that we have the necessary infrastructure and necessary capacity in place for responsiveness, knowing very well that we are a [small] island state and we are subject to these events,” he said.
“All in all, we feel pretty comfortable in terms of our preparedness,” he added.
As it relates to telecommunications, the island’s two main providers also told the committee meeting that they are ready to face a disaster if one strikes.
FLOW’s senior compliance manager, Keniesha Brown Plunkett, outlined that the company has put 12 disaster plans in place, which allows for response to situations in a timely manner.
She said that using lessons from the past, FLOW has actively trained its coordinators to respond to certain protocols and has identified key personnel in each parish, with the regional crisis management team also on standby if the local team requires assistance.
“We have tested our satellite phones that we have in stock and we’re also happy to say that we are supporting the national disaster programme,” she said.
“We have contributed to vests, we have sourced signs, and we [have helped to] ensure that shelter management programmes are up and running,” she added.
Some of the challenges experienced by the company that may affect its disaster response include the theft of infrastructure, which includes batteries and copper wires, and damage outside the plant network caused by motor vehicle accidents.
To mitigate these, the company has activated monitoring and tracking on its devices, sensitised communities to monitor any irregularities and undertaken routine assessments.
The Atlantic Hurricane season runs annually from June 1 to November 30. Mid-August to about mid-October is considered to be the peak of the season.