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Expanding our disaster preparedness

SONIA BROWN

Published: Oct 11, 2016

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We have made it through another major hurricane with New Providence this time taking a direct hit. And with the benefit of time we will look back at the effectiveness of the warning systems, disaster preparedness, emergency response and ability of the various utilities to sustain services during the hurricane and rebound thereafter. I would hope that we can collectively agree that over the years we have definitely seen improvements in all areas and those responsible should be commended for this.

As a part of our overall disaster preparedness, though not always at the forefront of our minds, is an assessment of the ability of our buildings and infrastructure – including our roads, bridges, docks, storm drainage systems and the like – to withstand weather events. Here again we did reasonably well and this in part explains the fact that there was no loss of life.

But where do we go from here and are we ready for potentially stronger and more dangerous storms?

Our response must extend beyond better early warning systems, more shelters and increased standby generation capacity, all of which we need, to ongoing assessments of where we allow persons to build, how we build and who is allowed to participate in construction.

We must, as the government is seeking to do, develop a robust Contractors Act to clearly define specific trades and regulate them so that we are in line with international standards. It is correct to demand that those charged with construction demonstrate certain minimum skill and academic abilities, and as this effort has been in the works for far too many years hopefully this latest hurricane serves as a reminder of the importance of seeing this law passed.

We need to find creative solutions to coastal development so we continue to benefit from, frankly, the revenues that such developments generate for us as a country, without compromising the environment.

Further, I commend the ongoing review of the existing Local Government Act that currently gives to persons, regardless of their qualifications, the powers of a buildings control officer upon election. At present it is a worrisome double standard, because in New Providence buildings control officers have been licensed civil engineers or licensed architects. The removal of this provision is a step in the right direction towards improving the quality of structures on the Family Islands.

Finally our building code has served us well, but it was always meant to be a living document that responded to technology changes, new hazards and climatic changes, at the very least. We have consistently failed to make the update of this important document a priority so that it might maintain its relevance. This must change so that it is fully updated on a predictable cycle in a process involving suitably competent stakeholders.

So yes, it is important to prepare for storms, hurricanes and other weather events just prior to their arrival but we must also give priority to strengthening our approach to future design and development so that we are better equipped to respond to stronger and potentially more frequent weather events.

 

• We would love to hear from you. Send questions or comments to sbrown@graphitebahamas.com.
Sonia Brown is the principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.


 

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