Close Menu

Whose Responsibility is it? #13

This is article number 13 and if you are superstitious you have only two choices; lucky for some or unlucky for others. This is the very situation regarding the passage of Hurricane Matthew, and the discussions and recriminations following a near miss. Depending on your level of responsibility there are so many responses that take absolutely no account of a near miss after sounding an alarm.

Here are a few scenarios from other situations:

  • It is 1942 in Britain and two hundred German bombers are spotted crossing the coast at Dover. Do we sound the air-raid warning sirens, or do we wait to see if it is just a casual flight to take pictures?
  • It is 9/11 in New York and planes have just crashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Do we go to full alert immediately and divert other planes, or do we think that there were three pilots who may have been in need of psychiatric help?

These two scenarios require decisions by people who by the nature of their jobs are entrusted with the responsibility for making decisions under certain probable threatening circumstances, and often where the lives of others are under potential threat.

The very same is true of probable but unpredictable events that are placed under the responsibility of a few persons. Here are a few of those:

  • You are running a business and have a decision to make outside of an emergency; do you insure your assets against fire, flood, hurricane and earthquake, bearing in mind that you are in the very safe zone on Marcus Garvey Drive, no disasters have occurred in the last five years, and nothing can go wrong?
  • You are driving a new and expensive car so should you insure for third party only; trusting that other motorists are well known safe operators that don’t drink or take drugs; and that only persons with valid licenses drive illegal taxis and mini-buses?
  • You have a beautiful new baby so do you boil water in anticipation of a hurricane or do you trust that the 100% reliable Water Commission will keep clean water flowing to your home, and that the JPS will provide power for your electric stove and refrigerator?

These are just a few of the scenarios out of a possible several million that confront government, business, and persons, when faced with unpredictable circumstances. In our case, weather forecasting is at best a fairly educated guess, and is no more certain than predicting accurate electoral results based on polls with narrow margins and a +- 3% error margin.

So get real Jamaicans. Someone has to make calls and if they fail to do so and the worst happens, who will take the blame? It surely won’t be the naysayers who sit like spectators in the stadium and later analyze why we lost and why the coach must be fired. This is the very nature of the amorphous thing we call leadership and responsible leadership.

The Government, the Private Sector, and the Relief Agencies have taken a most responsible approach for the mobilization of resources that are necessary for the preservation of life and assets, (and we always say: people are our most important assets). Such is the nature of Mission and Vision Statements, and the 2030 Vision. Any non-decision that imperils these would be irresponsible and indictable acts.

Your Granny told you that “coward man keep sound bones”, and it was great advice. Regrettably, Granny may have passed and the wisdom of the ages is discounted in favour of rumours, false advice, and political criticism that is totally unwarranted. Memory is a significant part of Disaster Preparedness and if you have not had a practical experience then you may not believe the danger. Here are a few personal facts:

  • I was born one month before Hurricane Charlie in 1951.
  • When Hurricane Gilbert arrived in 1988 I was 37 years old, married, with 4 children, and this was my first serious hurricane experience.
  • We were without power in Norbrook for 9 weeks.
  • We were without NWC supplies for 10 days.
  • We were the only ones on our road with a generator (that we had wisely bought 8 years earlier rather than a BMW), and we had a working satellite dish.
  • We had 20-30 friends each night for cold drinks, ice-water, and a look at the Olympics and Ben Johnson.
  • GraceKennedy lost the entire roof of the food warehouse in NPW, and Frome Cash n Carry had 5 feet of water through the place as Rickitts River overflowed its banks. (We were the only sports bar in Kingston.)
  • Most of our business competitors lost food supplies to water damage and cold storage spoilage, and there was an island wide feeling of desperation.
  • Politicians of both sides were attempting distribution of food on a partisan basis and all was chaos for some time. Zinc sheets that were donated disappeared in a “scandal”, and hardware stores ran out of essential supplies.
  • There was a mad rush for some cheap and unreliable gas generators that created more dangers by causing fires and burn injuries.
  • Looters had a field day during and after the storm.
  • "Full a bully beef" was NOT a song but a reality.

We all vowed- never again. “Seeing was believing” and we all recognized that this should never happen again. Several measures were put in place as a result over the years and these are just a few:

  1. GraceKennedy produced a Disaster Preparedness Manual and shared it with the wider Jamaica.
  2. Politicians agreed to designate the Red Cross and the Salvation Army as the only official relief agencies, and that politics should never play any role in distribution of relief goods.
  3. Hon. Portia Simpson (then Minister of Local Government) signed an agreement that local companies (mainly GraceKennedy) should supply goods in advance of a hurricane to the two designated agencies, and if unused could be returned and credited at no cost, and if used would be paid for by the Government.
  4. Later, Prime Minister Patterson agreed that in order to reduce confusion or mixed information; ALL media would be given timely and consistent information concerning precautions and mandated community evacuation with transportation to shelters (this in light of the rapid expansion in radio licences issued and in operation, and announcers and DJ’s temptation to provide potentially misleading information). Today this provision has been taken over by some misleading social media communications.
  5. It was also agreed that this information should include longer opening hours of essential food and hardware retail and also the banks (outside of the BOJ prescription), and advising when these should be closed. This was necessary to give the public the opportunity to shop and also for the employees of such businesses to secure themselves and their families and properties.

But how old were you in Gilbert? You would have to be nearly 30, and probably 45 to have a real memory. So when Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica we were again ill-prepared as most young persons refused to think that there was a real threat. Southern Clarendon was badly hit and didn’t get water until a spare tanker was sent by GraceKennedy, but it seems that places like Portland Cottage have simply forgotten.

Most persons in their critical utterances are either unaware of, ignorant of, have convenient memory losses, or simply may wish to score cheap political points. Human life and safety must be treated appropriately by all responsible persons without regard for race, religion, gender, age, or political affiliation. These are characteristics of a civilized nation.

Responsibility and risk minimization is the province of leaders and it is not a debatable proposition.

We (in a rare exhibition of caring for others or in a “fit of Christian compassion”) should be preparing to give relief to Haiti and Cuba. We should also be prepared to lobby with all the big and rich nations that reneged on their commitment to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Our neighbours are living in tents and flimsy structures on an island that is almost totally denuded of trees and vegetation, without shelter, medicine, and human comfort of any kind except for a few missionaries.

So let us get out of our sanctimonious praying for ourselves and put out a hand to help others as we would hope others would help us. Sounds very biblical, Commandments style doesn’t it? Perhaps in the year the Mother Theresa achieved Saint Status we could reflect on the less fortunate.

Let us place ourselves in a position to assist with the alleviation of disasters in other countries especially our neighbours in Haiti, the DR, Cuba, the Bahamas, and others who may not have escaped the wrath of Matthew.

That is our responsibility.

Executive Insights
From the Desk of James Moss- Solomon
Executive in Residence, MSBM
October 4, 2016
Top of Page