Disaster co-ordinator warns against red tape

  • Disaster warning: Steve Cosham

    Disaster warning: Steve Cosham

Bermuda should plan for the reception of foreign aid after natural disasters such as hurricanes, a disaster expert has said.

Steve Cosham, the Government’s National Disaster Co-ordinator and team leader for the Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Team, explained the island’s aid effort for the Bahamas after the country was hit by Hurricane Dorian in September had highlighted potential problems with overseas aid.

Mr Cosham said that the Bahamian authorities would not accept a shipload of aid from Bermuda until a full inventory had been carried out and expiration dates on food had been checked.

Mr Cosham, a veteran police officer, said: “I was speaking to the director of the National Emergency Management Agency in the Bahamas and all these rules that came up, he didn’t know about; they made up the rules, in the best interests of the country, as they went along.

“The reflection back in Bermuda is we need to have this conversation about how do we accept aid before we have a big storm?

“We need to decide with all the different agencies, so people don’t go off script and we know exactly what we can tell people, when they send aid in — this is how it needs to be packed and this is how we will accept aid.”

Mr Cosham was speaking as part of a panel discussion on climate risk and small islands at the Climate Risk Forum, at the Hamilton Princess&Beach Club on Wednesday.

Mr Cosham said Bermuda collected 200 tonnes of aid for the Bahamas in the wake of Dorian and the first shipment transported by Royal Navy icebreaker HMSProtector amounted to about 40 tonnes.

He added: “The bureaucracy that unfolded is that the Bahamian customs said they need the value of all the goods and an inventory of all the goods even though there is no duty payable on it all.

“We had to unpack everything and do a detailed inventory.

“And with all the food aid, all the expiration dates needed to be checked and they wouldn’t accept anything that would expire in less than four weeks so we had to unpack everything again.

“When we eventually got there, we unpacked all the goods and it went straight to where it needed to go.”

The Ministry of National Security did not respond to a request for comment on whether Bermuda had started to plan for emergency overseas aid arrivals.

Mr Cosham said at the forum that effective communication was crucial and highlighted last month’s Hurricane Humberto as a good example.

He explained: “The approach we wanted to take was to have good, effective communications out to the public so they knew what was going on and had confidence in that message and also that the message went out overseas so that overseas would have confidence in Bermuda.

“We would have a press conference each day and brief the public about what was going to happen the next day.”

Mr Cosham said: “After two or three days of this messaging it worked really well, the public got to understand the message timing.

“We also had signers for the deaf and hard of hearing included in our press conferences for the first time. We did nine press conferences over nine days.”

Mr Cosham added that Humberto had surprised emergency planners because it strengthened as it approached Bermuda rather than faded, as is normal.

He said: “We nearly got Hurricane Humberto wrong. We know, at least we did before Humberto, in Bermuda that all the hurricanes that come up barrelling towards us as a strong hurricane, as they get to us they go down a couple of classifications.

“Humberto was different — it came at us as a Category 3 and as it went past us it became a Category 4. That doesn’t happen, so we were not preparing for that.”

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Published Nov 1, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 1, 2019 at 8:28 am)

Disaster co-ordinator warns against red tape

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