At the start of the Hurricane Season on June 1, the recovery team at the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA) swung into gear, to plan its annual road rescue and tree clearing operations for the six-month season, as predictions are that storm activity in 2010 could be more vigorous than in previous years.
This season, meteorologists are expecting as many as 18 storms to develop in the Atlantic Ocean; and 10 are expected to become hurricanes that could make landfall in the Caribbean, taking lives and devastating property.
“As part of our corporate social responsibility, the JAA maintains strong links with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), the Jamaica Red Cross and other emergency respondents, so that we can assist with road clearance and other services when the need arises,” Mr. Emile Spence, Jamaica National Building Society Executive and head of the JAA, said recently.
He was outlining the JAA’s operations for the season, and maintained that, “Hurricane preparedness is serious business, even as we actively pursue our national membership drive.”
Knowing that one is a member of an automobile club, which offers emergency services before, during, and in the aftermath of a natural disaster, provides a sense of comfort to many Jamaicans. And, the JAA, the country’s premier automobile club, is equipped and has trained technicians who can deliver these services promptly and effectively, Mr. Spence said.
“Each year, the auto club routinely begins preparation in May. Our team members take stock of all the equipment needed including power saws; CB radios for communication; as well as medical supplies, and ensure that our vehicles are capable of handling bad weather,” he explained.
We also make contact with the Disaster Preparedness Committees such as the Portmore Disaster Preparedness Committee, Mr. Spence stated. And, this year, we are also seeking to strengthen our team by forming alliances with volunteer groups, such as the Cadets.
JAA Operations Manager, Duane Ellis pointed out that, “All our technicians are certified in a number of critical areas. In addition to their roadside competencies, they are certified to handle hazardous material, some types of heavy equipment; and are trained and qualified to respond to specific medical emergencies.”
“Each year, we work out our logistics. We reconfirm where our technicians live, to establish that their housing is adequate, so that we can determine if they will need to be evacuated, or if they will need assistance. We also use that information to create a map and zone our technicians for emergency deployment,” Mr. Ellis explained.
He said technicians are often requested to work within a 20 mile radius of home following a disastrous weather feature. And, as a hurricane or storm veers towards landfall, within 24 hours, the JAA moves its team into emergency mode.
“It is important to note that our assistance is strictly voluntary; and, we heighten our Call Centre monitoring, listening for calls from members; and start to monitor the roadways, so we can assist anyone who needs help,” Sydney Wedderburn, a senior JAA Response Technician, explained.
In addition, our properly identified team members patrol communities and offer tips to motorists that help to protect their motor vehicles and their properties.
“As the storm warnings narrow down the impact to within 12 hours, we focus on motorists travelling in dangerous zones and try to lead them to safety or to give them assistance if they need it,” Mr. Wedderburn emphasized, “And, we remain on patrol until it is no longer safe for us to be on the streets.”
And that’s no joke. During the passage of Tropical Storm Gustav for example, Mr. Ellis pointed out that the team patrolling the Harbour View to Bull Bay area in St. Andrew, retreated less than an hour before the collapse of the Harbour View Bridge, which links St. Andrew with the parish of St. Thomas.
“We were out there up to the very last minute, so that we could provide updates to the media and to the other emergency services, as well as provide assistance to persons who were rushing to get home just before the storm made landfall,” Mr. Ellis recalled.
And, after the passage of that storm, he said the JAA team members were back on the roads to clear fallen trees, and assist with directing traffic, as well as guiding displaced persons to safety.
“The first 72 hours after the Hurricane or storm passes are the most important,” the Operations Manager said. “We head to the streets to provide assistance in clearing road blocks and assist motorists and the marooned. Our surveillance usually continues until most roads are open; and we work side-by-side with other emergency services.”
The JAA Call Centre at 1-888- Call- JAA, are also on full alert for assistance calls and they communicate reliably during and after the storm passage; assuring callers that everyone will get a response.
“At the JAA we all love what we do; and we are always equipped and ready to respond to our members and the general public in emergency situations,” Mr. Spence maintained.