St. Kitts reviews disaster plans for Schools

Audrey Mullings

Basseterre, St. Kitts, March 17, 2011 (SKNIS): The increased frequency of natural disasters and the forecasted growth in intensity as a result of climate change, have prompted disaster and education officials to redouble efforts in formulating strategies to protect life and property.

This was stressed on Wednesday (March 16) as approximately 25 teachers from public primary and secondary schools and the Cotton-Thomas Comprehensive School (formerly known as Special Education) gathered at the NEMA Conference Room for a three-day workshop to reactivate the St. Kitts School Safety Programme.

“We recognize that St. Kitts finds itself, through no fault of ours, in an area which is very prone to a large number of disasters including hurricanes and earthquakes,” stated Dr. Michael Blake, a Senior Education Officer within the Ministry of Education. As such Dr. Blake said the Ministry of Education is “very concerned” that a clear policy is not yet in place that will minimize casualties and damage to structures in the event that a disaster should strike while school is in session.

In a previous release, National Disaster Coordinator Carl Herbert disclosed that the programme “was implemented some years ago but was discontinued as a result of a variety of challenges experienced by the facilitators.” However, local authorities have resuscitated the initiative which is being supported by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Facilitator Audrey Mullings – the consultant for St. Kitts and Nevis at USAID/OFDA -revealed that the agency is working closely with Regional Governments and national disaster organizations on a range of projects including earthquake safety and a tsunami early warning system.

She added that the School Safety Programme being instituted here is a training of trainers workshop.

“OFDA recognizes all the hazards we have in Region and one of the areas we thought was important was strengthening risk management education,” she stressed. “So what we have done is to look at the experiences, pull together some specialist and we think that preparedness efforts in school will save lives, not only for the school students and teachers but really for the wider community in emergencies. We also want to look at education and make it a more useful tool in the prevention and solution of problems that may occur.”

The assistance to the Region is not limited to natural disasters. Ms. Williams indicated that issues concerning discipline and violence in schools are also being addressed collaboratively by OFDA.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Astona Browne – herself a former teacher – told the participants that their role is extremely important as they are expected to take the lessons of the March 16 to 18 workshop back to their respective schools to share with other faculty members as well as colleagues in private schools.

“We are therefore embracing a proactive approach to safety,” she stressed. “… Our strategy is also multi-sectoral and one of partnership as we strengthen our collaborative efforts in strengthening the safety of our vulnerable groups and our citizens and residents of our Federation.”

A similar activity is also scheduled to take place on Nevis later this month.

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