The hurricane season kicked off on June first, and today the City Emergency Management Organization, CEMO, held a press conference at City Hall. While one purpose of the conference is to send the message that CEMO is prepared and ready to deal with any occurrence, another is to make it crystal clear that Belize City residents must also be prepared. There are thirteen shelters in Belize City – eight on the south-side and five on the north-side. All have been checked and made ready. But make no mistake…while they will be adequate, they won’t be comfortable.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor
“I want to make this point very clear; that the shelters are not for convenience. It is something that you really have to make it clear to members of the public; that when you go into a shelter, it is because an emergency has been declared—in this case we are talking about hurricane—and you are in there to protect your life and certain of your core property. You will not be comfortable in a shelter. So one of our first and primary advices to the public is that if you can afford going to shelter, leave the city. That’s one of the things that we have always advice members of the public of. Members of the public in Belize City may have families in Orange Walk or Belmopan and there is part of our process where we try to encourage people because of course the maintenance of a shelter involves the use of resources and it has a security consideration and a strain on our planning. So what we try to do is that we try to minimize the amount of persons in shelters for safety reasons and other practical concerns. But when you go into a shelter, because of how traditionally schools have been constructed, one of the things that we are in discussion on is to ensure that there are bathroom facilities now that are annexed on to the main structure. We have several of our shelters who have this sort of arrangement, but traditionally how schools have been built in Belize, the bathroom facilities are away from the physical main building. When you are in a hurricane, you will be locked in the building and we can’t reconstruct the school, because of financial reasons of course. So one of the things that we say is that we try to make ameliorated steps to ensure that we can provide people comfort as much as possible, but that is not our primary concern when you are in the shelter. Our primary concern is to ensure that you are safe.”
A comprehensive evacuation plan revealed
While shelters are ready, they should be a last resort. CEMO has also worked on an elaborate and comprehensive evacuation plan. According to Mayor Bradley, that evacuation in the event of a natural disaster takes everything into account, including the ongoing municipal street-works.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor
“In the event of a hurricane, what we have done is, when there is an evacuation order that is given—that is an actually physical thing that is done—there is a lot of preparatory work that goes into making an evacuation order. That is an actual physical thing that is done. There is a lot of preparatory work that goes into making an evacuation order. They would consult with CEMO; I am the chairperson of CEMO. They would ask our opinion and advice in relation to when or whether an evacuation order should be issued. When that evacuation order is issued, before that order, we would have already known because we know now what the evacuation routes are and we would have already put in place measures to ensure that that road or wherever people have to exit the city from is passable. The evacuation routes that Phillip Willoughby did; it is so detailed and one of the things that I wanna emphasize in this is that it was done with partnership from the business community and other relevant stakeholders. So that for example, if you have to evacuate heavy equipment, there is a certain day that you have to evacuate that equipment. If we are talking about buses, there is a certain day that buses will leave the city. If you are talking about voluntary evacuation, when people will drive their private vehicles, there is a certain day and time that those things are to be done. So that the evacuation route is not only putting up signs, but that there is a process involved in evacuation including ensuring that the pathways for the evacuation are ready and that those streets are passable. So that a lot of process went into this and we would ensure from the standpoint of the City that all evacuation is done in a very smooth way.”
The Belize City Council will be hosting a symposium at the Belize Biltmore Plaza on Tuesday to discuss climate change issues with stakeholders.