ST. CROIX – On Friday, during Governor Albert Bryan’s sit-down with the media, Daryl D. Jaschen, director nominee of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (V.I.T.E.M.A.), gave an update on hurricane preparedness in the Virgin Islands.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year, and a likely range of 9 to 15 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 4 to 8 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 2 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which 6 become hurricanes, including 3 major ones.
“For the Virgin Islands, it only takes one. We are focused on outreach to get the word to the population to prepare and protect themselves. And part of that preparedness includes having a basic emergency supply kit,” relayed Mr. Jaschen.
Earlier this month The Consortium outlined specific hurricane preparedness advice provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.).
Build a Kit. Consider the specific needs of your family, including the elderly and those with access and functional needs, to ensure you have supplies for the first 10 days following a disaster as they may have to shelter in place.
Make a family communications plan. As roads may be impassable and cell phone service may be disrupted, identify alternate ways of staying in touch with loved ones.
Harden and Protect Your Property. Virgin Islanders should also take steps to protect their homes.
Mr. Jaschen stressed that it is important for the V.I. community to come together and develop a plan to work together. “We cannot be in denial; hurricane season is here. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.
V.I.T.E.M.A. has been working diligently to identify and designate shelters. There are two types of shelters: immediate care, which includes evacuation to protect yourself during a storm and the second type of shelter, called mass-care shelters, which includes facilities provided by nonprofits like the Red Cross and provide mid to longterm care.
The Department of Human Services has announced shelters territory-wide in case of a storm. They include the following:
Difference between a “Watch” and a “Warning”
According to VITEMA, it is important to understand the difference between the National Weather Service’s (N.W.S.) watches and warnings when getting prepared for any dangerous weather hazard, including hurricanes. Both watches and warnings are important, but warnings are more urgent.
A watch lets you know that weather conditions are favorable for a hazard to occur. It literally means “be on guard.” They are issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm-force winds. During the watch, it is crucial to gather awareness of the specific threat and prepare for action. Always monitor the weather to find out if conditions have deteriorated and discuss your protective action plans with your family.
A warning requires immediate action. This means a weather hazard is imminent; it is either occurring or it is about to occur at any moment. A warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm-force winds. During the warning, it is important to take action: grab the emergency kit you have prepared in advance and head to safety immediately.
V.I.T.E.M.A. recently met federal partners, local responders, and hospital officials to discuss what went right and what went wrong during Hurricanes Irma and Maria. “We discussed how we could improve upon last year’s hurricane plan to ensure that it is successfully executed this hurricane season,” Mr. Jaschen said.
“One key factor will be to begin a decision-making process with the governor 96 hours out. This will put the agency in a position to put resources and personnel in place ahead of time to respond in the event of a hurricane, Mr. Jaschen added.
He recommends that the general public signs up for V.I.T.E.M.A. alerts (Alert VI) at http://www.vitema.vi.gov to be informed of any weather systems that may impact the territory and remain abreast of any new emergency developments. Alerts are sent by email, text, or landline.
Currently, alerts are updated every six hours. However, if a hurricane watch or warning is issued, and a system is close to land, the alerts will be updated every hour.
In addition, the agency will canvas neighborhoods utilizing a public announcement (P.A.) system to announce the status and conditions of the environment regarding hurricane threats.
The hurricane season officially began on June 1 and extends to November 30.