Did you know that every constituency is Barbados has an associated District Emergency Organisation (DEO)? However, not all 30 of these DEOs are currently active. This was revealed by the chairman of the St. James Central District Emergency Organisation, Selwyn Brooks. Each District Emergency Organisation is a volunteer arm of the Department of the Emergency Management (DEM).

According to Brooks, even though there is a valuable and mutually beneficial link between the two organisations, the Department of Emergency Management is not responsible for forming the DEOs. “It is not for the Department of Emergency Management to set up the DEO. The DEM is there to be a guide,” he said, “It has to come from the community. The community must want to have an emergency response mechanism so they can protect themselves. In those areas where there is not a functioning DEO right now, people must empower themselves and take charge of their community.”

Some communities without an active DEO have a functioning neighbourhood watch and Cheryl Griffith, a Certified Business Continuity Professional, explained that this can be the basis for reviving the DEO. She said, “If the community already has an existing neighbourhood watch that can be a start for them. They can build on that in creating their own DEO.”

Highlighting the importance of having such an organisation, Brooks noted that in the event of an emergency, the DEO reduces the burden which is placed on the emergency services. Furthermore, having a DEO allows the community to build valuable stakeholder partnerships. These partners are able to properly equip the community with the tools and information necessary to prepare for and assist in
the event of a disaster. These agencies include:

  • Department of Emergency Management
  • Royal Barbados Police Force
  • Barbados Fire Service
  • Barbados Defense Force
  • St. John Ambulance Brigade
  • The Drainage Unit
  • The Coastal Zone Management Unit
  • Insurance Companies

The two DEO volunteers condemned what they have observed to be a ubiquitous mentality across the country’s landscape. According to them this mind-set is one where people tend to wait for someone else to execute a task rather than taking the initiative to perform it themselves. Griffith cited an example of this occurring when people rely on a government department to clear drains in the vicinity of their homes and complain about experiencing flooding when t is not done in a timely manner. She therefore suggested that in these instances, people within the community, should take the initiative and exercise the necessary precautions to prevent a disaster which could have been easily avoided.

Brooks stressed that the first step in preparing for disasters was learning about them. “If you have knowledge of what the hazards are, and the risks associated with those hazards then you determine what you need to learn and acquire. This allows you to plan and prepare for those hazards,” he said. Thus, taking stock of potentially dangerous items in and around your home is essential. These items include the use and storage of chlorine bleach, acetone and LPG bottles.

He also encouraged this process at the community level saying, “Find out what hazards can impact your community and the level at which they can pose risks to you. Then, take the appropriate steps whether it is engineering processes, practical ways in which you can mitigate, resolve or reduce [the hazards]. You might not always be able to completely remove them but you can significant minimise the risk.”

Within the community, residents should be aware of flood prone areas, the placement of power lines and electric poles and even roads where vehicular access is a challenge. Businesses such as supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and Laundromats, which house and or use chemicals and combustible substances could also be potential risks. Therefore, persons residing nearby should have an evacuation plan in the event of a disaster at a nearby business place.