Saturday, April 20, 2024

WEDNESDAY WOMAN: Thomas – ready for any crisis


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THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR conceptualising, implementing and monitoring the national emergency management programme has rested on the shoulders of this WEDNESDAY WOMAN since the early 1980s. But although her task is so big, she went to work every morning with a smile on her face and the words “loyalty” and “country” on her mind.Judy Thomas, director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM), started in 1983 as an assistant supervisor with the then Central Emergency Relief Organisation (CERO), as the emergency agency was called before the name change. As she spoke to the MIDWEEK NATION in the Emergency Operation Centre of the department’s Warrens office, Thomas pointed out her dreams and aspirations for the organisation which she heads.“This department heads the national emergency response mechanism. It provides the coordinating link between the capability that exists between agencies and departments and the private sector resources, and because we are so crucial to that coordinating effort we are the first department that the public would refer to if a national disaster occurs.“When I joined back in ’83, the disaster management programme was not as extensive as it is now. Then, we were focusing on hurricanes and floods as the two main threats that would disrupt Barbados. Since then we have expanded the mandate to comprehensive disaster management, which means we are looking at all threats – not only hurricanes and floods. We are looking at the meteorological threats, the technological threats, security threats,” said the director.Thomas explained that her job was extremely taxing, leaving her with limited opportunity to relax. Before she is “up on mornings the phone is ringing off the hook” and before she goes to bed at nights “the phone is ringing off the hook”.Nevertheless, this caring individual answers because it is difficult to not “absorb the concerns of the citizens of Barbados”.“The only difficulty I have is that [the department] has been plagued with a lack of human resources. I am talking about paid personnel to carry out specific tasks, and therefore you have to be a jack of all trades. “We don’t have enough people to actually carry out the task that is genuinely required for running a national disaster management programme or any national programme. I guess it is because we have not had a major impact, so the idea of setting the agency up in a proper way has not been bought [into].“After twenty-something years, I am struggling with running a national programme without the requisite resources that are required . . . . “At the end of the day, it is a question of trying to integrate the entire emergency management system to pull resources from the different agencies of Government and the private sector. “It is difficult because you don’t have control over the availability of the persons that you are trying to incorporate,” said the former journalist.The 61-year-old said her enduring dream is to turn the soil at least on the construction of a National Emergency Operating Centre, which would be a physical, institutional mechanism to run the country in a crisis.“I really think that the Government needs to critically look at what [it is] asking this department to do and then make a scientific analysis of what it is that we need to do the job. I hope to be able to sail away on a cloud knowing that has been done. We are in this makeshift building that is not a purpose-built building.“Actually, we are one of the few emergency agencies that don’t have a purpose-built facility in the region. We were once the leaders in emergency management in the Caribbean. Now, we have fallen below par because you have other countries like Trinidad [and] Belize with purpose-built facilities. . . . “We are still occupying a warehouse in an industrial estate. But we have seen signs from the Government that [it is] going to provide us with that facility and that would be one of the things that would make me happy.”Thomas sees the local media as the vehicle by which her department disseminates information to Barbadian citizens. She said she would like the media to conduct a survey to gather data on the public’s response to the information.“I know that the public try their best to do what is required by us. However, every time that we are spared we relax, so the priorities are changing. I am not wishing for an emergency, but when I look at Noah and the fact that he was building an ark and telling people to get ready and they didn’t, I know that Barbados is not peculiar.“There is a tendency for people to put those possibilities on the back-burner until they are really threatened by an emergency. I am concerned that I need the capacity to give them the message in proper language and be very specific about the things that I want them to do and then I know that good sense will prevail.”


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