ON any given day, parliamentary representatives for St. James South Donville Inniss and St. James Central Kerrie Symmonds may be at loggerheads.
However, over the weekend, the two politicians who sit on opposite sides of the political divide agreed on a number of things, including the need to bring the three District Emergency Organisations (DEOs) of St. James North, South and Central under one management structure. Representative for St. James North Edmund Hinkson was unable to attend the meeting.
Their views on such a shift came during the annual general meeting of the St. James Central DEO, held at the Queen’s College School. Chairman Selwyn Brooks explained that the focus of the AGM was to engage the parliamentary representatives, churches, neighbourhood watches and other community groups on the proposal to merge the three entities.
Symmonds said the proposal would only redound to the betterment of the administration of disaster management across this parish. He pointed to the resources that could be shared under the leadership of Brooks, who has been honing his skills for close to 14 years. He also stressed the importance of tapping into the private sector, noting the number of hotels and restaurants on the West Coast of the island that can be severely impacted during a storm surge or flooding.
“In addition…merging the efforts can help you better access the resources in difficult circumstances…” he said.
He expressed concern that a number of first responders, including the Fire Station in Weston, are on the coast, which would impede their ability to reach communities in the event of a disaster.
Symmonds joined calls for a satellite office to be made available for the DEO, to be a hub for officials on the ground.
Member of Parliament for St. James South Donville Inniss also lauded the work of Selwyn Brooks, and noted that in such a small geographic space, there is no need for separate entities to be drawing upon the same resources to meet the challenges facing the communities.
As it relates to a satellite office, he told those gathered that a request has been made to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Housing and Lands to use Crown property at Holder’s Hill, commonly known as the old St. John the Baptist School, which is earmarked to be developed into a nursery school by the Maria Holder Trust. He said, however, that he is satisfied that there is enough space in the environs to accommodate an office, recognising that the DEO would not be a 24/7 operation.
With regard to emergency services and their proximity to the coast, he noted that through the ongoing Security Enhancement Programme, one can already see some of these structures being build further inland.
He encouraged residents to come on board with the disaster management preparations, recognising that disasters do not ask for one’s political affiliation. Inniss also stated that there is a need for more volunteers and a more aggressive education programme to sensitise residents on the ways they too can safeguard their own space against disasters.
Brooks told those gathered that at present there are approximately 65 active members in St. James Central DEO. He said the proposal speaks to having a cadre of persons to service the parish, explaining that should something happen in St. James north, there should be no need to move persons from the south to respond.
He revealed that he has already contacted the other DEOs and has had some cooperation with the St. James South group, and at present the North has not been functioning at the level currently hoped.
He said it is hoped that there could be approximately 150-200 trained persons to service the parish. “But the challenge there is we’ve heard persons say ‘Don’t worry … when something happens we will come’. I don’t want that. When you respond and you are not trained to respond, you are creating another hazard for us because you are putting yourself at risk,” he explained. (JH)