Emergency Management in the U.S. Virgin Islands: A

Emergency Management in the U.S. Virgin Islands: A

Emergency Management in the U.S. Virgin Islands: A Small Island Territory with a Developing Program Carlos Samuel, PHD Student Department of Public Administration University of North Texas Overview I. General Context Overview II. Significant Hazards and Vulnerabilities III. Major Disaster History

IV. Emergency Management Laws and Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency V. Emergency Management Activities VI. Challenges and Major Lessons VII. Conclusion Territory Overview Unincorporated territory of the United States located 1,099 miles southeast of FL and 40 east of Puerto Rico. Population of 109,750 Consists of four primary islands (Saint Croix, Saint

Thomas, Saint John, Water Island) with a total size of 133 square miles. Islands consist of a hilly topography and tropical arid climate. Significant Hazards and Vulnerabilities Hurricanes- Biggest and most frequent natural hazard. Earthquakes Tsunamis- Majority of territorys population/busiest commercial centers are situated in low-lying areas. Flooding- Poor land use planning and insufficient drainage

systems throughout the islands has exacerbated flooding. Significant Hazards and Vulnerabilities Geographic Location -Close to 100% of food, medication, and fuel are imported through ports (Alperen, 2006). Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA)- Autonomous public utility company providing electricity to 55,000 residents and water to 13,000 residents.

-Damage to WAPA plant could hinder ability to provide fresh water and electricity to residents. Major Disaster History Tsunami of 1867 Hurricane Hugo (1969)- Killed 2, injured 80, 90% of buildings were damaged or destroyed, and a total of one billion in damage. Hurricane Marilyn (1995)- Caused $1.5 billion in damage and left 10,000 Saint Thomas residents homeless.

Emergency Management Laws The lead emergency management agency for the territory is VITEMA (Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency). Authority is derived from the V. I. Code, Title 23, the VITEMA Act (5233) of 1986, and the Emergency Management Act of 2009. In 2009, Bill 28-11 restructured the operations of VITEMA and elevated the agency to a governor cabinet-level agency. VITEMA adopted functions such as the 911 function from the V.I. Police Department, the Public Assistance Program from the Office

of Management and Budget and the Office of Homeland Security from the Adjutant General's Office. Emergency Management Activities Seven million dollar redesign of the VITEMA headquarters to meet DHS standards and modeled after National Incident Management Systems (NIMS). In 2010 VITEMA updated the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan. VITEMA has developed short-term emergency shelters and emergency plans have been developed by WAPA at the urging of VITEMA. VITEMA participated in the FEMA Project Impact Initiative where

$300,000 dollar in funding was used for multiple purposes including conducting structural integrity assessments of emergency shelters and other critical locations such as hospital buildings. Emergency Management Activities Building Codes Upgrades- After Hurricane Hugo, requirement of new building codes allowing structures to withstand a category 2 hurricane (110 mph winds). required the use of anchoring systems, hurricane clips, and shutters on buildings. In addition, all water production, oil storage, distribution facilities, and piers were strengthened. WAPA Project- In 2000, WAPA undertook a $12.5 million dollar project as part of the HMGP to bury electrical lines that provide power to critical facilities such as hospitals and airports to

reduce downtime. Projects of this type are still ongoing; Project also built new electrical substations to decentralize the power grid. Tsunami Siren Project- In March 2011, project was underway to install tsunami warning sirens throughout the three islands; Tsunami workshops were also held in 2010 to familiarize residents with this type of disaster. Implemented VI Alert Warning Systems Conducted public outreach programs and workshops and brought in emergency management experts. Challenges and Major Lessons

Geographic location Geographic isolation fosters a sense of community and a personal approach towards emergency planning. Limited resources Lack of resources has resulted in VITEMA needing to become more efficient by consolidating resources so as to have them work in a targeted manner. Conclusion Inherent Hazards and vulnerabilities can be overcome by

continued commitment and dedication on the part of the government to ensure that emergency management initiatives continue to progress. Projects have included burying electrical cables, revamping the territorys building codes, assessing the structural integrity of critical structures, conducting public outreach, restructuring VITEMA, installing a tsunami warning sirens, and implementing the V.I. Alert System. Continued planning and mitigation will allow the Virgin Islands to serve as the standard for other small island Caribbean nations.

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