In a confirmation hearing Thursday, Daryl Jaschen, nominated to direct the V. I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, said there are deficiencies in the stocking of FEMA warehouses in the territory.
Jaschen said he and Gov. Albert Bryan toured FEMA warehouses in Puerto Rico and found them stocked much better with emergency supplies of food and water.
Sen. Myron Jackson asked Jaschen why he believes this is. Jaschen had no concrete answer, but he said he would pursue an answer with the FEMA Region II administrator when the administrator visits the territory in July.
The stocks in the warehouses Jaschen referred to are for immediate response until the ports are opened and supplies can be delivered through the normal supply chain. He said, “I am not satisfied with the conditions of these warehouses in the territory, especially when compared to the FEMA warehouses recently expanded in Puerto Rico since Irma and Maria, which are environmentally controlled and adequately stocked.”
Jackson also expressed concern with the number of tarps stocked for the next emergency. He said the number stocked at the time of Irma and Maria was inadequate. Jaschen said FEMA has 1,000 tarps stocked on St. Croix and 500 stocked on St. Thomas. Jackson said that was “totally inadequate. Why would they only stock 500?”
Jackson, as well as Sen. Novelle Francis, raised concerns about the island’s tsunami warning system. Jaschen said the system, with 44 sirens, is not functioning. He said work to get the system working again will not start until January, 2020. Until then residents will have to rely on alerts they get through their smartphones, he said.
Sen. Steven Payne raised concerns about the situation on St. John, where no generators are stored. There is presently no shelter in Cruz Bay. Payne said residents could be forced to walk to Coral Bay eight miles away in an emergency. Jaschen said the agency was working on getting a site in Cruz Bay for a shelter and for storage of a generator. There are 15 generators on St. Croix, 26 on St. Thomas
In his testimony, Jaschen said working closely with the commissioners of the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services, along with the Fire Service, VITEMA recently conducted 25 potential evacuation shelter assessments and on May 31, the DHS certified six shelters.
The shelters on St. Thomas are the DHS Head Start Center, Sugar Estate and Lockhart Elementary School. On St. Croix the shelters are the DHS Head Start Center, Mars Hill, Frederiksted and St. Croix Educational Complex. On St. John the shelter is the Calabash Boom Community Center, and on Water Island the evacuation shelter is the Water Island Fire Station. VITEMA hopes to bring more shelters on line.
Jaschen said Hurricanes Irma and Maria taught officials they needed an improved emergency service contracts process and to centralize funding for refueling operations and purchase fuel reserves for electric generation. He said the agency has done that and is developing a cabinet emergency communications radio and satellite phone testing plan.
Several senators said they will be questioning Jaschen more on hurricane preparedness next week.
Besides moving Jaschen’s nomination to the full senate with a favorable recommendation, the committee also moved three bills forward.
One was a bill providing a definition of a Virgin Islands veteran for the purpose of setting aside taxi medallions for veterans. Another bill would give the Department of Education flexibility in setting the school calendar upon the declaration of emergency. The third bill was a ban on the retail sale or distribution of topical sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
The hearing also highlighted some of the technology the Senate has been taking advantage of in recent months. Three St. Croix senators, instead of taking the seaplane to St. Thomas, attended the meeting via Skype. The viewer watching the broadcast live on the internet can see a broadcast more sophisticated than in the past. The broadcast now has split screens showing the testifier as well as the senator asking questions.