Remarks – Southern Bahamas Disaster Conference

Remarks by U.S. Charge d’Affaires a.i. Lisa Johnson

Good evening.  It is my pleasure to welcome each of you to the latest in our series of joint Bahamian- United States Disaster Resilience Conferences.   Recent events continue to highlight the urgent need to ensure that our citizens — Bahamian and American — are prepared to deal with the reality of disasters striking our communities.  The first Atlantic Tropical Storm of 2015 surprised many when it made landfall on May 10th in South Carolina, three weeks before the official start of the hurricane season.  In Texas, two weeks later, heavy rains resulted in numerous casualties and infrastructure damage affecting 46 counties and paralyzing parts of major U.S. cities such as Houston and Austin.

We must avoid complacency, which may creep in during the lull in tropical storm activity we have seen in recent years in The Bahamas.  Only proper disaster planning and continued vigilance will ensure successful mitigation, response, and recovery.

It is for this reason that we all are here today for the fifth in a series of disaster mitigation conferences.  This conference also demonstrates my promise to use Embassy resources to assist local communities in strengthening preparedness before a disaster occurs.

I am pleased that the United States and The Bahamas – through the United States Northern Command and the National Emergency Management Agency –maintain a close working relationship in the area of disaster management.  The goal of this partnership is to build the capacity of local partners throughout The Bahamas to ensure the response to an unforeseen disaster is the best it possibly can be.

One example of our joint efforts is the recent completion of the third phase of our Water Rescue project.  Nine islands now have received equipment and training and established local teams capable of conducting land and water search and rescue operations to respond to flooding, boating, and air accidents in their communities.

We also are exploring the construction of an emergency relief warehouse in Great Inagua, which would be the third such warehouse donated by the United States and which helps meet the distributed regional response strategy NEMA has developed.  I toured the disaster supply warehouse on Grand Bahama last month and was impressed by the fully-stocked, well-organized and maintained facility.

I would like to thank Prime Minister Christie for the Government of The Bahamas’ ongoing support of our joint capacity-building efforts.  I also would like to thank Captain Russell and the National Emergency Management Agency for your leadership each and every day, and particularly when disasters strike.

I ask that over the next few days, as you interact with experts from the Pacific Disaster Center and from your own government agencies, that you make the effort to build on relationships that will be critical in future response and recovery efforts.  The old adage that the time of an incident is not the time to exchange business cards is especially critical in a combined response effort covering the expansive archipelago that is The Bahamas.

I appreciate the opportunity to join you this evening as you begin this critical three-day exercise.  On behalf of the entire U.S. Mission to The Bahamas, thank you for your service to your nation and your commitment to protecting local communities.