THE HAGUE – The Dutch government will engage in talks with Dutch Caribbean countries and the Dutch public entities about strengthening operational coordination in disaster and crisis management on a higher level.
Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus announced this in a letter he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday in a policy reaction to the report of the Dutch Inspectorate for Justice and Security on the system of disaster management in the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, in particular where it regards the response to the 2017 hurricanes.
One of the recommendations in the Inspectorate’s report was to arrange operational coordination in disasters that involve several islands. Grapperhaus explained that the three public entities had acknowledged in a letter dated September 11, 2018, that operational coordination in case of disasters was insufficiently secured.
According to the public entities, there were two solutions to the shortfall, which involves coordination of information, assistance and logistic processes. The three islands suggested operational coordination either from the Netherlands or from the Caribbean region.
The public entities asked the Dutch government to look into the possibility of an umbrella operational coordination system. The National Government Representative for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will be seeking cooperation with the safety region Rotterdam Rijnmond to look into ways to fill this (practical) gap, announced Grapperhaus.
He confirmed that regional meetings had taken place in Curaçao and Aruba in respectively August and November between the crisis coordinators of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten, Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, where regional cooperation possibilities were discussed. The Ministry of Defence and the Representation of the Netherlands in the Dutch Caribbean took part in these meetings.
These steps being taken in the region are a reason for Grapperhaus and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops to enter into consultations with the Caribbean countries of the Kingdom, the National Government Representative and the Island Governors of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba to discuss strengthening the overarching, island-exceeding operational coordination.
Grapperhaus stated that the minister of defence would also be involved, considering the role and know-how of defence in the region. He said it was important that the larger, island-exceeding operational coordination fit with local authority and the structure of disaster and crisis management.
He announced the construction in December 2018 of the Statia Emergency Operations Centre, which can serve as a coordination centre for a local crisis or disaster, but also for larger, island-exceeding crises and disasters.
Grapperhaus also elaborated on various other recommendations of the Inspectorate for Justice and Security. One of these was to make transport to and from St. Eustatius and Saba less dependent on St. Maarten. As a result of Hurricane Irma, no use could be made of St. Maarten’s airport for a while.
Grapperhaus concluded that the Dutch defence, the public entities and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK had done a good job in arranging transport within the logistical possibilities after Hurricane Irma. Using St. Kitts’ airport proved a good alternative.
“Fortunately, the emergency recovery of the St. Maarten airport went quickly and air traffic was resumed in a relatively short period. Possibly the St. Eustatius airport can play a bigger role in the future as a regional support station, taking the airport’s capacity into consideration,” stated Grapperhaus.
“Chaos and the collapsing of facilities cannot be prevented in the case of a large hurricane the size of Irma, no matter how thorough the preparations. The fact that the facilities of other islands in the area are affected as well by the disaster or crisis also has to be taken into consideration. That means that the islands have to take precautions to be self-supporting for a short period.”
The Caribbean Netherlands has taken measures in the meantime to increase their self-reliance, including the purchase of communication material, agreements with suppliers of services and goods, and the increase of water production and storage in St. Eustatius and Saba.
In response to the Inspectorate’s recommendation to make St. Eustatius and Saba less dependent on St. Maarten’s telecommunications system, Grapperhaus explained that local telecommunications operators with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate EZK had acquired satellite ground stations that can be linked directly with the existing installations.
These satellite installations, which have an emergency system for essential communication, can be used by the Island Governor for communication with the outside world, for example. In St. Eustatius, work is being done to make the communications network less dependent on St. Maarten by strengthening the underground network.
Regarding the Inspectorate’s recommendation to assess possibilities for evacuation of emergency patients to nearby islands, Grapperhaus stated that a special work group has been installed.
In this work group, chaired by St. Maarten, it was agreed that further agreements are needed about preventive medical evacuation of kidney dialysis patients and other critical patients in case of an approaching hurricane. A plan of action will be presented early 2019.
A procedure for the preventive evacuation of patients has been drafted for St. Eustatius and Saba. Agreements have also been made to facilitate the replacing of doctors and nurses between Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba if this becomes necessary.
According to Grapperhaus, it will take some time to implement many of the Inspectorate’s recommendations. But the processes that have started are a good step in the direction of securing a robust organisation for disaster and crisis management in the Caribbean Netherlands, he concluded.
The Inspectorate’s recommendations will be part of the Risk and Crisis Management Agenda 2018-2021. He said the crisis organisations in St. Eustatius and Saba worked well, but there was room for improvement in terms of coordination.