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Police Hear How to Soften Impacts of Disasters

May 20, 2005 – Police commissioners from around the Caribbean heard Friday that planning can help more people survive disasters and also identify those who don't.
John Magee, a system sales manager and presenter at the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police conference, said 9/11 showed emergency responders that not everyone was talking to everyone else. Even inside departments communication problems prevailed. He emphasized that in-building/out-building communication was important. The N.Y. Police Department could communicate with officers in the Twin Towers, the fire department could not. More firefighters than police officers died there.
Magee demonstrated sophisticated systems of real-time communication, with voice, video, photographic and data transfers. He said mug shots were being sent to investigation scenes electronically and finger prints were being returned the same way. He said the days of an officer on the scene with a simple radio were past.
Recent disasters that the presenters and commissioners in the conference room at at the Carambola Beach Resort were familiar with were the hurricanes that hit Grenada and the Caymans. The contrast was stark. Magee said emergency personnel were never without communication during the disaster on the Caymans. A police commissioner who landed on Grenada three days after the event to give security support said the scene was near chaos.
Grantley Watson, who moderated a discussion on Disaster Emergency Response Initiatives, pointed out natural human frailties that make natural disasters worse. He said he did not know why "But, for reasons of need or greed, looting always follows a natural disaster."
He told of men swimming into a flooded shoe store on his home island of Barbados and stealing mismatched shoes. Another police commissioner said that escaped prisoners in Grenada stole cars from the lots and were driving around in them. He said one was even selling drugs from his "new" car.
Watson said police officers have to be firm, "You can't just tell the looter to go home. You are a police officer. You have to do your job."
He said business owners by being in contact with the police department and by being willing to take defensive measures at their stores can cut down dramatically on the looting.
A second human problem arises after a disaster when everyone wants to be in control. He said security forces wishing to help another country in a disaster must be willing to surrender command to the country they are helping.
Secondly, the distribution of aid can fall victim to political maneuvering when certain favors are granted to certain people. Watson said police officers have to be firm here even though it can be difficult. Watson is part of a rapid response team. He said a politician threatened to deport a member of his team just because the team member was insisting on fairness for all the islanders.
Also giving a presentation in the morning was Camilla Rhone, executive secretary for Caricom Regional Organization for Standards and Quality.
She urged that all Caribbean nations adopt building codes that take into account the unique conditions of the Caribbean. A commissioner from the audience said in some disasters it appears that government buildings, those designated as shelters are the first to go.
Rhone said adopted, solid building codes are only the first step. She said the codes must be enforced for everyone.
V.I. Sen. Pedro Encarnacion was in the audience during her presentation. He said he thought the V.I. building code was in good shape but Rhone's presentation had motivated him to take another look at it.
He also listened to a presentation by Cheryl Corbin, of the Forensic Science Center on Barbados. She ran down a list telling the commissioners various ways they could identify the victim. She also said it was helpful if certain information was gathered before a disaster and groups organized that could deal with religious matters and body disposals during a disaster.
She did raise another point that fell under Encarnacion's purview. She said it was important during a disaster to have a strict command control system in place.
Encarnacion said the Virgin Islands has that. He said Adjutant Gen Eddy Arnold head of VITEMA was in charge.
V.I. Police Commissioner Elton Lewis questioned Corbin whether her laboratory was certified. She said it was not certified yet, but was in the process.
Lewis said he had visited the laboratory and wanted to take the new attorney general here to visit it also so the Virgin Islands can start using it. It said turn-around time when evidence is sent to a laboratory in the United States is way too long.
No seminars are set over the weekend, but the conference is back in gear Monday at 8:30 a.m. with a presentation by the Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas called "The Importance of Visitor Safety and Security."
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