SEPTEMBER 6, 2022
MESSAGE FROM HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR
MR JOHN RANKIN, CMG
REFLECTING ON FIVE YEARS SINCE HURRICANE IRMA
Good day to all.
Today marks five years since this Territory faced the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma.
As I reflect on what I saw here shortly after the storm’s impact, the overall impression today is of the herculean task that has been accomplished by the people of the Virgin Islands to recover from the storm. At the time, I was Governor of Bermuda and I flew in to the Territory as part of the UK’s crisis response and recovery effort to support the Government of the BVI.
Recovering from that historic storm would have been challenging in any jurisdiction, but for an island nation with a comparatively small population, to have arrived where we are today is truly commendable. At the same time, I am keenly aware that there is still work to do to recover from Hurricane Irma, some people are still suffering from the trauma of the storm, and some are still rebuilding homes and livelihoods.
We must always be prepared in case another hurricane strikes, but we are better prepared now then we have ever been, and that is thanks to years of work the people of the Virgin Islands have carried out to prepare for these types of events.
For the last 20 years, the Department of Disaster Management has coordinated Government’s comprehensive approach to potential disasters. This shift to incorporating planning, preparedness and mitigation well before any potential threat – as opposed to the old way of simply responding to events after the fact – has quietly safeguarded the BVI by preventing the vast majority of floods, storms and other hazards that have occurred, from overwhelming our local capacity to respond.
There is no doubt that a large part of the success of the recovery from Hurricane Irma was due to this work bringing government, business and people together to build resilience in the face of a natural disaster.
Another factor working in our favour was that all of the preparatory work happens collaboratively across sectors. Representatives from key public services like law & order, security, health, education, and infrastructure help shape the national comprehensive disaster management strategy.
Once written, the strategy is then used by government working hand-in-glove with the United Kingdom, partners from the business community, local community based organisations like Rotary and the BVI Red Cross, and regional partners such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.
This proactive and collaborative approach was what leaders relied on in the hours and days after Hurricane Irma passed; and as the BVI braced for the possible impact of Hurricane Jose, and then again for Hurricane Maria. It allowed our leaders to focus on what needed to be done in a strategic fashion, and helped to overcome some of the shock that struck in the face of such a massive impact.
The lessons from 2017 helped inform changes like the Continuity of Government Plan to ensure the smooth provision of public services. We have improved how we track and protect public goods and property. Government follows an improved standard for new community centres and schools so that these important structures will be better prepared to withstand future impacts.
New building sites are assessed based on their vulnerability to hazards before any construction begins. And, through a strong collaboration with the BVI Chamber of Commerce & Hotel Association, businesses are encouraged to create continuity and contingency plans of their own, which they can have vetted at no cost by the professionals in the Department of Disaster Management.
That collaborative approach was also very similar to the community spirit that emerged in those early days after Hurricane Irma, with neighbours, villages, churches, and extended family networks banding together to care for one another. Of all the lessons we have learned, I hope the need to unite and take care of each other is one that stays with us all, particularly as we work to support those still rebuilding, or who are still healing from the trauma from that experience.
Does all this progress mean that recovery as a process is complete? Not yet. But experts say that a full recovery from an impact like Irma would take between five and seven years.
That means that while there is more to be done, we should recognise how far we have come, that our recovery is on track, and that we are now better prepared than ever should another disaster happen again.
As Governor I remain committed to supporting the work of the Department of Disaster Management, and to do all that I can to support the people of the BVI in time of need.