FEMA, VITEMA brief officials on disaster planning
Published: February 15, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - The governor's office and the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency have taken another step toward creating a giant plan B for the territory so that an act of terrorism or a natural disaster will not cripple the government's operations.
On Thursday at VITEMA headquarters on St. Thomas, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and VITEMA briefed senior level personnel from the territory's three branches of government on some of the measures they would have to take in the event of a disaster to ensure that the government continues to operate.
Officials stressed the concept of "redundancy" or having a pre-designated chain of command in the event that senior personnel are disabled, killed or unavailable to lead after a disaster.
The concept of redundancy also extends to facilities, and VITEMA will call upon each governmental agency to map out where they will conduct business in the event that its offices are destroyed, according to VITEMA Director Elton Lewis.
Lewis said Hurricane Sandy, and the widespread damage it caused to East Coast cities and states, prompted Gov. John deJongh Jr. to enhance the territory's crisis contingency plans.
Lewis said he was reviewing FEMA documents detailing governmental responses to Sandy to understand the latest information on a storm of that magnitude.
Lewis did not assign a deadline for the creation of the plan.
"This is not something that is going to happen overnight," he said. "It's a long process. It's a tedious process with a lot of stakeholders and lot of different moving parts."
V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue Sr.; Sen. Kenneth Gittens; Attorney General Vincent Frazer; Lisa Hamilton, president of the Hotel & Tourism Association; and senior staff members of the Office of the Governor and the Office of the Lt. Governor attended the "senior orientation."
Throughout the year, VITEMA will conduct similar meetings with the commissioners of public departments and members of the private sector to develop a comprehensive continuity of operations plan and to outline their responsibilities in the creation of the plan, Lewis said.
In contrast to mainland locations, the territory has the advantage of having a "one-level" government and can avoid miscommunications and lack of coordination between municipal and state entities in the event of a disaster, according to Lewis.
However, the Virgin Islands' geographical isolation and limited land mass mean that alternate facilities will be scarce.
"Our options are limited due to the size of the island's land mass," deJongh said in a prepared statement Government House issued Thursday. "Unlike states on the mainland or even Puerto Rico, we cannot simply pack up and move government operations to the next town, county, city district or parish. We must recover and resume operations within our islands."
Hamilton said it was critical for the private sector, in particular the tourism industry, to be included in a continuity plan because the hotels and resorts can provide emergency shelter and because they provide for the safety of about 10,000 visitors on any given day.
"I see this plan as a very proactive step of taking us to the next level in terms of providing even more governmental assurances that we are ready for a disaster," Hamilton said.
- Contact reporter Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.