Department of Health (DOH) officials met with Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) personnel and other members of the Emergency Management Committee on Thursday, Oct. 17, at the regularly scheduled monthly meeting to discuss DOH’s “Plan to Prepare” project. That project offers a community-based approach to preventing hurricane-related deaths and injuries in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The pilot project targets residents under five years old and over 65 because these individuals are especially at risk. The goal is to reduce their vulnerability to future disasters by building capacity to increase their preparedness. For this project, DOH selected the Estate Whim community, which is on the southwestern side of the St. Croix. Whim was heavily impacted by Hurricane Maria as evidenced by the blue tarps still covering roofs in the area.
The damages experienced in that area, coupled with the high population of seniors and children, were some of the key determinants in selecting Whim for the pilot project. The project consists of several phases. DOH concluded Phase One on April 23 at a community meeting with residents, non-profit organizations and government entities to assess and identify disaster-related health risks in the Whim area.
That session was facilitated by DisasterDoc founder Mark Keim. Keim is a widely-recognized disaster medical expert. Phase Two’s community-facilitated planning workshop will be held on Thursday, Nov. 14, and Friday, Nov. 15, at the University of the Virgin Islands. Attendees will develop a plan focused on safe evacuation and sheltering. This event provides an opportunity for community members to directly participate in the planning process. The plan will be executed during a tabletop exercise slated for March 2020.
According to Sandra I. Charles, deputy director of the Public Health Preparedness Program at the Department of Health, “We would like to take best practices and lessons learned and anticipate implementing this project into other communities territorially.”
A report detailing the findings and planning process will be available for dissemination by July 2020. That information will be used to assist other communities in the Virgin Islands with the design of plans that prepare for future emergencies.