The hurricane season is off to an early start with May already seeing two named tropical storms, Arthur and Bertha. However, due to on-going and frequent planning efforts, the agencies’ preparations and mitigation plans require more organization for this hurricane season because it is also layered with a COVID-19 pandemic.
The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) hosted a half-day tabletop exercise last week that identified key gaps of sheltering limitations, communication systems and the order of operations. Through identified gaps it was determined that shelter capacity will be limited this year due to the American Red Cross social distancing sheltering requirements as well as the challenge to recruit the ideal and typical number of volunteers.
“It is imperative that our faith communities, our local businesses and our not-for-profit community all come together to identify new, safe, innovative ways to prepare and shelter safely this year,” said Department of Human Services Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez.
“More than ever, we need our community to do what Virgin Islanders do best and reach out to support your family, friends and neighbors so that as many people as possible can safely shelter in place,” she said.
Virgin Islands Fire Services (VIFS) and the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) will be ready to serve in the event of a storm, and the agency is prepared to deploy personnel to conduct search and rescue operations, assist with clearing routes and brush cutting, and provide general support for disaster response and recovery efforts.
For most storms threatening the territory, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. will declare a State of Emergency and implement hours of curfew, which means shelter in place to protect the lives of individuals before, during and after the storm. Additionally, the Virgin Islands Police Department will establish traffic control points to minimize the risk of unsafe driving conditions and check for curfew violators.