FN Senior Reporter

It is now two weeks into the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season and the Red Cross has been working with residents of High Rock to ensure that they are thoroughly prepared for any disaster that may come their way – hurricane or otherwise.
 Administrator of the Grand Bahama Red Cross, Mary Culmer was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Freeport's weekly meeting yesterday and she shared information on the organization's efforts in that community.

The need for disaster preparedness is not limited to families, Culmer noted, as many times communities are forced to deal with crises that affect many or all of their residents.

"Sometimes our community experiences disasters, such as the plane crash which occurred in New Providence some time ago, the major fires we heard about in Abaco and also in New Providence," she said.

Over the past two years, the Red Cross Society has undertaken an initiative, in partnership with the American Red Cross, for community preparedness.

"This initiative in a nutshell requires a community to identify its strengths and weakness and be in a readiness position to respond to disasters," she said.

Eight communities in The Bahamas have been identified and are undergoing this preparedness, she added, one of which is High Rock.

Residents there have recently completed the vulnerability and capacity assessment and are now to undergo a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, she explained.

"This program supports local response capabilities by train-

ing volunteers to organize themselves at the disaster sight, to provide immediate assistance to victims and to collect disaster intelligence to support responders' efforts when they arrive."

In the classroom, she said, participants learn about the hazards they face and ways to prepare for them.

"CERT members are taught basic organizational skills, disaster preparedness, first aid, CPR etcetera and they can use this information to help themselves and their loved ones and neighbors until help arrives."

Three weeks ago, residents of High Rock spent a week in training.

"We met each day and they went through a process of learning the community, observing the community. We went out on field trips, on walks, where they were asked to identify hazards, identify strengths, because it's important to know that there's a water well down at Mrs. Thompson's yard. They would need to know that in times of disaster," she said.

"So they went through the classroom experience of documenting all the strengths of the community, we had to work along with the nurses there to determine the individuals who would be suffering. Maybe hypertension, diabetes, they needed to know all the ill persons in the communities. Whose homes or yards have hazardous materials hanging around and carry them away. Do not wait for a disaster, go into the community now and prepare."

Culmer also provided an update to Rotarians on the efforts of the National Emergency and Management Agency (NEMA) and the Grand Bahama Disaster Preparedness Committee, which have been meeting regularly.

"Emergency support functions have been identified, with allocations to lead and support agencies inclusive of the Bahamas Red Cross Society. All shelters have now been identified, works necessary to prepare and make them ready has been done," she noted.

Culmer advised those in attendance to also take personal responsibility for their safety, making sure to prepare their homes and families for any emergency.

Natural and human caused disasters can strike at any time and anywhere, she pointed out, but there are three actions people can take that can help make a difference.

"One is to get a kit, at a minium, keep some basic supplies in an easy to carry emergency preparedness kit, that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate,"?she said.

Those supplies should include a two-week supply of water, using one gallon per person per day as an average; battery powered flashlights and a radio with extra batteries.

"Also remember a first aid kit should include a seven-day supply of medication and all medical items necessary. Also, place in your kit a multipurpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items, copies of personal documents - that is pertinent medical information, proof of your address, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, all of these should be in a personal documents packet in your kit," Culmer advised.

Culmer said it is also important to have a cellphone, family and emergency contact information, extra cash and a emergency blanket. "Consider the needs of your family - such as baby supplies, pet supplies, games and activities for your children. Also consider any other additional supplies to assist with damages, such as duct tape, household liquid bleach, a sleeping bag."