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HomeNewsLocal governmentEmergency Personnel Share 2024 Hurricane Preparedness Updates with the Senate

Emergency Personnel Share 2024 Hurricane Preparedness Updates with the Senate

Committee on Homeland Security Justice and Public Safety chair, Senator Kenneth Gittens, hits the gavel to preside over the committee meeting. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

Senators from the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety met on Tuesday to discuss emergency management and hurricane preparedness for the 2024 season, with members from several emergency departments present.

The V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency’s Director, Daryl Jaschen, is “confident” that the territory will be well prepared for this year’s hurricane season.

Jaschen shared with the Senate that it is highly likely that the territory will have an above-normal hurricane season. Between 17 to 25 named storms, with four to seven of them becoming Category 3 to 5 hurricanes, are predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The director shared that VITEMA will be prepared for the storms after having conducted a yearly “week-long Hurricane Capstone Exercise” that entails five months of hurricane readiness preparation.

Key areas VITEMA will focus on this year include shelters and points of distribution collaboration with the Human Services Department, patient movement and evacuation with the Health Department, power restoration and temporary emergency power with the V.I. Water and Power Authority, route clearance and debris removal with the V.I. Waste Management Authority and the Public Works Department, collaboration with the V.I. Port Authority for airport and seaport operations, and law enforcement collaboration with the V.I. Police Department.

Jaschen highlighted that in the event of inclement weather, the public would be notified between 72 to 96 hours before the onset of tropical-storm-force winds. In the event of a storm, he also warned the public to be sufficiently prepared for 10-14 days, as that is the typical time before emergency response crews can arrive from outside the territory. However, he said that some aid via items such as boxed water and shelf-stable meals will be distributed before the arrival of emergency response teams.

“The water and meals are planned to be available to the community through VITEMA starting five days following the Federal Hurricane Major Disaster Declaration,” said Jaschen.

He highlighted that the food items will be made available at points of distribution known as PODS which will take five days to open unless authorized sooner by the governor.

“Both our local Virgin Islands National Guard and the Department of Human Services will play a key role in these Points of Distribution, PODS. They will operate two PODs per island, which has the capacity to distribute 5,000 meals per day per POD. These PODS will only operate until the private businesses are able to re-open,” said Jaschen.

“During an emergency, information hardly gets out. If ahead of time we can know where these distribution pods will be, I mean, it will be much easier for you and for those in need of what you’re distributing,” said Sen. Gittens.

Pod locations are anticipated to be at the Cotton Valley Fire Station, Eulalie Rivera Elementary School, Juanita Gardine K-8 School, Educational Complex High School, Central High School, Lagoon Street parking lot, Four Winds Plaza Shopping Center, Bordeaux Farmers Market, Fort Christian parking lot, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, and the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.

Sen. Franklin Johnson inquired about the distance of POD locations from residents’ homes on St. Croix and urged emergency personnel to make more accommodations for residents, especially for those disabled.

“These are the folks that are left many times by the wayside,” said Johnson.

“We do need to find a suitable location on the western end of the island that can be qualified,” said Gittens.

Additionally, senators grilled emergency testifiers about generator issues at many of the emergency staff locations. Many senators expressed concern over facilities such as fire and police stations not having operable generators, as well as clogged guts and drainage that lead to flooded roadways in the territory after rainfall.

“Our firehouse should not be in darkness,” said Gittens, referencing the fire station in Grove Place.

“We have a problem behind the Windward Passage Hotel. There is open sewage in the street,” said Sen. Ray Fonseca, who also asked when the problem would be rectified. “We cannot have open sewage in the street.”

Gittens also showed an August 2014 video of St. Croix in an area on Melvin Evans Highway across from Diageo that typically floods and was cleared due to the assistance of community members to express “the problem” with landscaping and roadway maintenance in the territory.

“Up to last week Friday we were in conversation with Waste Management, their wastewater team,” replied Rueben Jennings, Public Works Department assistant commissioner of the sewage issue by Windward Passage. He added that the issue will be rectified “as soon as possible.”

Some senators expressed concern over the disposal of green waste. Jaschen told senators that there would be “temporary debris sites” to dispose of green waste but that “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has indicated that no green waste will be transported outside the territory and Gov. Bryan will need to identify the best options of addressing the hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of green waste which will be generated as a result of the hurricane impact to the territory.

When asked what his biggest fear for this hurricane season is, Jachen responded, “I worry about procrastination. I worry about complacency by members in our community.” He added, “We want to be prepared.”

Senators urged Jaschen to provide hurricane preparedness material to the public and to have it available at community areas such as grocery stores.

Other testifiers included Human Services Assistant Commissioner Carla Benjamin, Director of the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services Antonio Stevens and Police Department Assistant Commissioner Mario Brooks.

Senators present were Dwayne DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Javan James Sr., Franklin Johnson, Kenneth Gittens, Diane Capehart, Alma Francis-Heyliger, and Milton Potter.

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