A regional search and rescue course will be held in Montserrat from February 15th to 24th 2009 to help boost the Caribbean’s preparation for coping with natural disasters.
Chief Minister of Montserrat, Dr. Lowell Lewis, said the island’s hosting of the Level 1 pilot course is Montserrat ’s contribution to ensuring that the region utilizes quickly, the funds provided for the European Union Overseas Territories Regional Risk Reduction Initiative R31 project.
“This project rationale sets out the situation, describing our small islands as being highly vulnerable to a range of natural hazards including earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Montserrat has had all of these during the last 10 years,” he stated. He made the announcement at the recently concluded 3rd Caribbean Conference on Disaster Management hosted by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), in Barbados in December.
Adding that other hazards include threat from air crashes, water accidents, oil spills, infectious disease, progressive environmental damage and other disaster events, he noted that Montserrat ’s struggle for 10 years with the effects of active volcanoes and other related natural disasters provides the ideal environment for the simulation exercises, which will be part of the certificate course.
“We plan to use our experience in Montserrat to enhance capacity building for the region, and share best practices worldwide,” he stated while adding that one of Montserrat ’s experiences is the continual loss of experienced and trained personnel due to mass migration of thousands of persons displaced by the many volcanic eruptions over the years.
“The only solution to this is to train more people. To attract young people to the area of Disaster Risk Reduction and to encourage them to become active full time or part time members of emergency services,” he explained.
The Montserrat Volcano Observatory, which was established shortly after the first phreatic eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat on July 18th 1995, notes Soufriere Hills Volcano eruption has continued for over two and a half years. The Observatory predicts that the eruption will go on for at least several more months and could extend to a few years. The Observatory is staffed by scientists from a variety of regional and international organizations as well as local personnel.
The 10 Day course for junior emergency service workers and volunteers, cadets and university undergraduates, will include three days of class room instruction on Disaster related topics, a two-day Basic Cardiac Life Support Training Certificate Course, three days of outdoor exercises, and one day of evaluations and examinations.
Dr. Lowell said successful participants will be awarded a certificate of competence in Search and Rescue and Basic Cardiac Life Support, which will be valid for 2 years, and in subsequent courses, undergraduates and college students will gain three credits towards their course of study. He said the pilot course, which will be financed by a special grant of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) window of the Petroleum Stabilization Fund, is being arranged to strengthen capacity in Montserrat , which continues to cope with the ongoing volcanic eruption. The grant will cover the course fees of US$1,000 for each of the participants and the fees and all local expenses of participants, Instructors and Observers. Travel cost to and from Montserrat is not included in this figure.
Five teams of six persons will be invited to participate; three from Montserrat , a combined team from OECS and a combined team from the EU Overseas Territories. The courses will also be marketed to teams from all CARICOM countries and Caribbean and North American Universities and Colleges undergraduates. The pilot course will be conducted by experienced and approved Disaster Management practitioners and be observed by key officials, for the purpose of accreditation. A proposal will also be submitted for this course in Montserrat, to be the activity of a 3 year Level 1 Training program of the ”Capacity building and training in response, rescue and recovery” component of the EU financed, UNDP managed OT’s Regional Risk Reduction Initiative R31 project. The objective of this program would be to train two teams per year for each Overseas Territory .
The Montserrat Community College and the Disaster Management Coordination Agency of the Government of Montserrat, in collaboration with CDERA, The University of the West Indies Disaster Management Unit, The British Virgin Island’s H. Lavity Stout Disaster Management Course and Monroe College have all collaborated to host the inaugural Pilot Search and Rescue Training Course and staff of Universal Emergency Care Training Inc, based in Brooklyn New York will also conduct aspects of the training.
Montserrat addressing climate change
Dr. Lowe revealed that Montserrat is also taking steps to address issues of climate change.
“We have now completed the designs for the proposed OECS Climate Change Centre in Montserrat, to work in collaboration with the Belize Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), but with a focus on monitoring, research and education for the smaller islands of the Eastern Caribbean . We now need to complete an environmental impact study of the facility, and complete proposals for funding of the facility and its operation for a three-year period,” he stated.
“Global climate change poses a disproportionally high risk to small island states, making it necessary for actions to prepare the region for the impacts of sea level and temperature change and to reduce the risk from them,” he added.