Mixed Reactions as NEMO’s Hurricane Warnings Stir Debate Among Residents

Mixed Reactions as NEMO’s Hurricane Warnings Stir Debate Among Residents

Since Monday, NEMO held press conferences and advised residents to prepare for the possible effects of a hurricane. As early as Tuesday, the organization issued the first phase of the National Hurricane Preparedness Plan, and by Wednesday, the second flag was hoisted. While the organization wasted no time mobilizing and cautioning residents, many have criticized the early warnings. The decision to implement the plan sent several residents into a slight panic to prepare for what they felt was an imminent danger. And, yesterday, the mixed messages increased because it was announced that businesses in the Orange Walk, Corozal, and Belize District were to close at noon. However, after a briefing with the Prime Minister, the decision was reverted and only businesses in Corozal were instructed to close early. The National Emergency Coordinator Daniel Mendez spoke on the issue and conceded that an all-clear should have been declared earlier.  

Captain Daniel Mendez, National Emergency Coordinator, NEMO: “We were hesitant to declare that at that time because conditions were still out there. We wanted to provide that guidance especially for business owners and so to give them time to contact their staff to come in. Clearly we will take that consideration. We should have declared the words all clear earlier. So we will take that again as a criticism. And again, one that we will continue to improve on. The guidance last night was that businesses can open and should reopen and the country should get back on track. Again, in the future, we are revising, we are ensuring that all of these messages are crystal clear to the country so there’s no ambiguity and no confusion. And again, if there was confusion we apologize for that and I can state again that these are areas that we will be ensuring are crystal clear in the future.”

Chief Meteorologist Ronald Gordon also weighed in on the criticism and stated that the Met Service will be conducting an analysis to improve several aspects of its disaster preparedness plan. He also noted that while his office was pressured to update the warnings, which may have caused more panic, he resisted.

Ronald Gordon, Chief Met Officer: “Each of these systems teach us, or every threat that we get gives us more information and makes us more resilient and prepared for the next one that may come our way. So certainly we do know that we need to make some changes, we need to make some adjustments, we need to adjust how we coordinate, communicate and so forth. And these things will certainly improve as time go along. At the MET Service, I want to say that I think that for us, it is important that persons understand what watches and warnings indicate from a MET perspective. We issue a watch when there’s a potential, a possibility of something coming our way. It doesn’t mean it’s going to make landfall. And once we upgrade that to a warning, then it indicates that we have a high level of certainty that it is likely to strike. For this particular scenario, we did not see that necessary so we kept it as a watch, even though I believe we were pressured. There was some pressure for us to upgrade it to a warning. We resisted. We looked at the information, and we maintained, we kept our grounds in terms of keeping it as a watch. And of course there is also the criticism from the other side, which again, I am not here to combat. There will be people who say that you should not have even issued a watch. I don’t think that’s responsible. There is a potentially devastating hurricane with us in the cone at one point. So we certainly needed to go to a watch to ensure that our population was to some level of alertness and prepared in case they needed to make to take action.”

NEMO had issued a Tropical Storm Warning on its Facebook page, but after a few minutes, the post was deleted. The error confused residents because the National Meteorological Service had stated that there was no need for a warning as the country remained under only a Tropical Storm Watch. Mendez spoke on the error and the need for better communication between both entities in the future.

Captain Daniel Mendez, National Emergency Coordinator, NEMO: “We are looking at new ways of reaching the public. And one of those new ways is the enhanced use of social media. So, you know, we’re in the middle of looking at and really understanding the power of social media. So what happened yesterday was not intentional, again. This was one arm of NEMO experimenting with something. And then it became a procedural error that we immediately recognized and pulled down. We, again, our learning lessons are we recognize now the power of social media. We recognize the reach that NEMO has across the country. And we are now very, very more careful with these because we understand that anything that we post is immediately listened to by the public. And we really thank the public for listening to us and listening to our message. So I guarantee you there will not be a repeat of this in the future. We are really strengthening our outreach to people and this means how we can do this in many different formats. And so for us as a responsible organization we need to use all of the tools available to reach as many people as possible. And you know, there’s sometimes there may be hiccups like this but we are again immediately looking at this and ensuring that our strategy is crystal clear and that our all our media, people on the radio, people on TV, people on social media are all in alignment. So we put out one messaging and it’s not confusing.”

Both organizations will meet to ensure the kinks seen this week are ironed out

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