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Workshop on Preparedness Brings Business, Government Together

The goal is to provide support — such as childcare and meal services for relief workers — to government disaster response officials in the event of an emergency.

by Suzanne Carlson, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas / April 8, 2016
(Shutterstock)

(TNS) - Individuals from the business community and the public sector came together Wednesday to discuss potential threats to the territory and disaster preparedness strategies.

“This was just the starting point. Now we’ve got to really keep the momentum going and move forward and do more of these types of things,” said Todd Patton, deputy director for planning and preparedness for the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency.

Tropical Shipping partnered with VITEMA, Caribbean-Central American Action and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association in coordinating workshops at the Marriott’s Frenchman’s Reef Beach Resort. A similar workshop took place on St. Croix on Tuesday.

Tropical Shipping’s Chief Executive Officer Rick Murrell said when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989, the public and private sectors lacked communication, particularly on St. Croix.

Since then, Murrell said he wanted to improve collaboration between agencies responsible for disaster preparedness and relief, and Tropical Shipping has hosted several such workshops a year in various locations, mostly in the Caribbean.

“Everybody’s very busy, so this here really today is to try to ensure there are no barriers to communication,” Murrell said. “If you don’t know who to call you can be locked in paralysis.”

Jennifer Nugent-Hill, director of Governmental and Community Affairs for Tropical Shipping, said that while natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis pose a serious threat, there are myriad other emergency situations that businesses and residents should prepare for.

Workshop participants discussed the possibility of terrorist attacks; active shooters on school campuses; infrastructure breakdowns; mass casualty events; ship fires; and epidemics, such as the Zika virus.

One threat to the Caribbean in particular is cyberattacks by hackers collecting financial data from the thousands of tourists who visit the territory annually.

Nugent-Hill said hacking is not only a crime, it’s a business worth around $10 billion annually, and the Caribbean is vulnerable to sophisticated attacks.

Workshop participants included individuals from local businesses, Customs and Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, V.I. Police, the V.I. Fire Service, the V.I. Water and Power Authority, Port Authority and other local agencies.

Cyrille Singleton, executive director of the V.I. Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, said the group has been working since it was founded in 2014 to provide training and organization for a variety of local nonprofits, including AARP, the Red Cross, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services.

Their goal is to provide support — such as childcare and meal services for relief workers — to government disaster response officials in the event of an emergency.

“We’re trying to find out what services do they need,” Singleton said.

Patton said the goal of Wednesday’s workshop was to create bridges in the community between various businesses and agencies.

“It was all about beginning the networking and working relationship process, and the idea now is to move that forward,” Patton said.

“At the end of the day disasters are going to happen,” Nugent-Hill said. “We can’t prevent these things from happening but we can minimize and mitigate the risk.”


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©2016 The Virgin Islands Daily News (St. Thomas, VIR)

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