Hurricane Ivan, the sixth most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, directly hit Grand Cayman in September 2004. Hurricane Paloma, the most powerful November hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin, hit the Sister Islands in 2008. Both caused severe damage in their wake. To residents of the Cayman Islands preparedness is now a fact of life whether it is during the hurricane season or not. They are ready.
Three days before the official start of the 2009 hurricane season (1 June) the National Hurricane Centre in Miami reported the first tropical depression of the season formed in the mid Atlantic which thankfully did not pose any threat to land. NOAA’s National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center has reported that there is expected to be a 50 per cent probability of a near-normal season, a 25 per cent probability of an above-normal season and a 25 per cent probability of a below-normal season. It is their view that global weather patterns are imposing a greater uncertainty in the 2009 hurricane season outlook than in recent years. Their forecasters say there is a 70 per cent chance of having nine to 14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5).
“This outlook is a guide to the overall expected seasonal activity. However, the outlook is not just about the numbers, it’s also about taking action,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Prepare for each and every season regardless of the seasonal outlook. Even a near- or below-normal season can produce land falling hurricanes, and it only t akes one land falling storm to make it a bad season.”
Our national plan for preparedness is fundamentally based on the concept that preparedness is a fully shared responsibility from the basic level of the individual, through to the household, to business and nationally at the level of government. Over the past five years post hurricane Ivan and then with hurricane Paloma we have seen a steady move at every level within our society towards an enhanced level of readiness. This level of preparation by both the private and public sectors mean that collectively we have taken our responsibilities seriously, both to minimize the possible impacts of any system and to ensure a rapid start-up of post hurricane continuity of operations.
This island trio, one of the world’s highest profile off shore financial centres as well as a major tourism destination sits in the northern Caribbean in close proximity to Florida and finds itself more often than not in the media spotlight as weather systems move westward through the Caribbean and indicate a potential to approach to the US mainland. While an inclement weather system associated with a major system can be huge – hundreds of miles across – and appear very intimidating when viewed in the media, the actual area of most severe conditions is generally much less than 100 miles across. The Cayman Islands being very small islands have experienced more misses than hits as the systems have moved through our area over the past 70 plus years.
The reality that these islands experienced two major hurricanes across all three islands within a four year span has resulted in the strong national disposition towards preparedness which is bolstered by the understanding that there is no ‘international’ or other external entity that can be relied on to lend post event assistance. The Cayman Islands demonstrate the hallmarks of excellent disaster preparedness – human behaviour is strongly driven by experience and we are richer in experiences than we have ever been before – Ivan and Paloma have left us with an understanding of what hurricane systems can do to whole communities. Our level of preparedness is directly related to what our people have experienced and their determination to minimize future impacts as much as possible.
The financial services industry is a solid example of the high state of preparedness in the Cayman Islands. Over the past four years the industry has worked hard to ensure that their physical infrastructures were highly resilient coming off the devastation of hurricane Ivan. Extensive back up power systems are now matter of fact resources both in the accommodations sector and in key infrastructure facilities. Telecommunications and power generation companies have increased their resiliency ensuring rapid post recovery operations for the business sector.The integrated relationship between the work of the Hazard Management Cayman Islands office and the financial services sector ensures that timely warning notices and regular notifications allow for a timely response from the industry businesses with efficient airlift allowing relocation of their operations if necessary.
The impact of a hurricane is a risk that is quite manageable, particularly if the opportunities to mitigate those risks are embraced in what we do today, the shared responsibility between the private and public sector here in the Cayman Islands is strong and that ensures that the mitigation plans from all sectors are strong. The 2009 Cayman compared to the 2004 Cayman shows a very high level of preparedness whether in the upgrade of our physical infrastructure facilities, our enhanced power supply or the increased resiliency in our telecommunications systems. We can always do more but we have come a long way. We are prepared for the 2009 hurricane system.