The peak of the Atlantic Basin hurricane season occurs the second week of September and historically, from that time until mid-November is the period of greatest threat to the Cayman Islands.
Although no one who was on Grand Cayman Sept. 11-12, 2004, will forget about the effects of Hurricane Ivan, it has been over a decade since Grand Cayman experienced a severely damaging impact from a hurricane or tropical storm. There hasn’t even been a significant tropical cyclone scare for Grand Cayman since Hurricane Paloma in 2008.
“Complacency is the worry now,” said Derek Haines, Senior Manager Security & Community Relations for Dart Enterprises. To help guard against complacency and to stress the importance of advance preparation for newer Cayman Islands residents who have not experienced a tropical cyclone before, Haines conducted two hurricane preparedness training sessions for Dart group employees in late July.
“It’s all about being prepared,” Haines said at the start of his presentation. “If we’re all prepared, we’re in good shape, but like the weakest link of a chain, if one person isn’t prepared, it affects all of us.”
Hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30, Haines said, noting that there are three distinct stages: the early stage in June and July, in which most tropical storms would form in the Western Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico; a mid-stage in August and September, when the storms tend to start as tropical waves coming off Western Africa near the Cape Verde islands and then progress westward across the tropical Atlantic Ocean; and the late stage in October and November, when most tropical storms form in the Western Caribbean Sea.
Haines said that although forecasting storm formation and intensity has improved greatly over the years, tracking is still an inexact science. He said it is a mistake to get fixated on the track line in the middle of the cone.
“The National Hurricane Center [in Miami] is hoping to extend the forecast cone out from five to seven days, but even at five days, they aren’t very accurate,” he said, noting that for every 24 hours, there’s a built-in error of 50 miles in the forecast cone. “Over five days, that’s 250 miles of potential error and one-third of all storms end up outside the cone.”
Haines said that many people make the mistake of judging the potential danger of a tropical cyclone by its category rating, which is determined by the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.
“Don’t be fooled by categories,” he warned. “Wind speed is just part of the equation. What is equally important is the size of the storm, its forward speed, the angle of approach and the distance from you and the centre of the storm as it passes.”
Not only is having a disaster plan in place vital for businesses, but it is also essential for individuals, Haines said.
“Get a plan together,” he said. “Discuss the disasters most likely to happen in Cayman and their impact on your family’s safety; train all family members and know who will provide first aid if it is needed; assemble your disaster supplies in advance; identify on- and off-island emergency names and contact details; and maintain your readiness.”
When it comes to hurricanes, people should try to initiate their plan 96 hours before the expected strike, Haines said.
“You’ll get that 96 hours from an Atlantic storm, but you may not with an early- or late-season storm that forms in the Caribbean, so the more prepared you are in advance, the better.”
Dart employees have the option of coming to Camana Bay to ride out a hurricane. The Forum Lane parking garage will be converted into a shelter for up to 1,000 employees and their close family members. One floor of the garage is also made pet friendly so people can bring their furry friends as long as they have carriers or cages. The pets are sheltered separately from their owners, but within easy access.
There is one primary goal of any disaster plan, including one for hurricanes, Haines said. “It’s about survival,” he said. “That’s what it is all about.”
Knowing a safe place to stay is vital. If a particular location stayed dry and intact during the Category 5 Hurricane Ivan, it probably would be a good place to stay, Haines said. However, if a place is known to be low-lying and prone to flooding from storm surge, or on the ocean shore, it is best to find somewhere else to ride out a hurricane.
“Ninety per cent of deaths from tropical cyclones are caused by water,” he said, adding that in addition to drownings from storm surge, mudslides from rain also kill many people in mountainous locations.
Once a storm passes, surviving is also made easier with good planning. Haines said that only two people died during Hurricane Ivan, but that many died in the days and weeks afterwards for various reasons, including heart attacks. Although good planning can’t remove all the stress people feel after a disaster, it will make things easier.
Having a proper hurricane kit with enough drinking water and food for at least three days after a storm is essential. Some other important items to have on hand in advance include cash, medications and vitamins, non-electric lighting and ways of cooking, and a battery-operated radio with batteries. Haines said complete hurricane kit lists can be found online at the Hazard Management Cayman Islands website as well as in booklet form in various places.
“Don’t forget about securing your important documents in plastic bags that you keep with you,” said Haines, adding that after Hurricane Ivan, he found several passports lying on the ground outside, having been washed out of homes by storm surge.