Author(s): Viviana Alva-Hart Haris Sanahuja

Barbados: Lessons learned in crafting inclusive hurricane-preparedness messages

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Hurricane Florence seen from Space in September 2018
NASA Johnson / flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Barbados, like many Caribbean islands, faces significant vulnerability to a range of natural hazards, increasingly exacerbated by the negative impacts of climate change. 

With a quarter of its population and most tourism locations situated in coastal areas, the country has historically been impacted by tropical cyclones and their associated effects, such as flooding and storm surges.

Annually, from June 1 to November 30, Barbadians brace themselves for the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Preparedness efforts encompass securing homes, assembling emergency kits, devising emergency plans with family and neighbours, and staying informed through National Weather Service alerts on TV, among other critical actions.

Recognizing the urgency of informing vulnerable groups with essential 'how-to-prepare' content for hurricane season, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) supported the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) in Barbados with the production of a series of awareness-raising videos focused on improving hurricane preparedness messages for the community during the 2023 hurricane season.

Here are the strategies implemented and key lessons learned:

1. An inclusive approach to hurricane preparedness

The initiative prioritized the identification of vulnerable populations through collaboration with various civil society sectors. By understanding the specific information needs and circumstances of these groups, tailored messages were crafted for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. These messages provided essential preparedness information, including practical steps and prevention tips customized for each audience. For instance, the authoritative perspective of a fire officer was enlisted to reinforce home safety against hurricanes.

2. Engaging local talent to maximise reach and help build trust

Leveraging local influencers and experts proved instrumental in building trust within the community. By featuring familiar faces in familiar settings, such as a fire officer from the local station or a meteorologist educating children about weather phenomena, the messages gained credibility and resonance.

3. Making preparedness information accessible to all

Efforts aimed to boost inclusivity due to low preparedness plans among individuals with disabilities, as shown in the 2023 UNDRR-led Global Survey Report. It found that 84% of surveyed individuals with disabilities lacked personal disaster preparedness plans.

To enhance preparedness for people with disabilities, the videos were made more accessible by incorporating subtitles and audio. Additionally, a specific video included sign language interpretation, aligning with global recommendations for better preparedness measures for this vulnerable group. Each video featured a QR code directing viewers to the official DEM page for crucial prevention information and shelter lists. Vital information such as DEM emergency numbers was also included.

4. Together We Get Prepared: Helping disseminate important information

Hurricane preparedness TV spots were broadcast on Barbados TV and shared through DEM's social media channels, reaching a wide audience across the island Supported by various agencies including the Barbados Meteorological Service, Barbados Fire Service, National Disabilities Unit, and the Barbados Association of Retired Persons, these efforts fostered a sense of collective responsibility and promoted inclusive preparedness measures.

Barbados Hurricane Preparedness Messages:

  • To address safety and reinforce homes against hurricanes, the authoritative perspective of a fire officer, recognized as an expert in community safety, was chosen.
  • Preparation messages for the elderly during hurricane season were improved by providing clear steps, essential contacts, and customized emergency kit guidance.
  • For people with disabilities, especially the deaf community, an influencer shared prevention messages and ways to communicate with the DEM to access more information using sign language.
  • The topic of disabilities and mobility was addressed by informing about the main prevention tips that should be considered by a person in a wheelchair to prepare for the hurricane season.
  • The awareness of children was addressed through family preparation messages and in learning the main colour alerts issued by the Barbados Met Office to incorporate them into the family emergency plan.

Barbados, with the IDB support, continues to innovate ways to deliver essential prevention messages and educate citizens about hurricane readiness. By prioritizing the involvement of vulnerable groups in preparedness messages, Barbados is building a more inclusive and equitable disaster risk management framework, ensuring that no community member is left behind in the face of natural disasters. As we approach the beginning of an anticipated hyperactive 2024 hurricane season in the Atlantic basin, the Barbados experience provides inspirational messages for other countries highly exposed to hurricanes across the region.

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Hazards Cyclone
Country and region Barbados
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