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Equipping St. Maarten: USC Forum 2017

Equipping St. Maarten: USC Forum 2017

The Hague — St Maarten students and young professionals gathered to discuss and formulate ideas for community preparedness and rebuilding post-Irma at EquipSXM, a forum hosted by Unified Sint Maarten Connection (USC) last Saturday.

EquipSXM is the fourth in a series of Sint Maarten’s Day forum collaborations between USC and Pelicarus, an organisation focused on students/young professionals of St. Martin origin based in France. Past meets have been in Paris, Den Haag and Toulouse with this year’s returning to the Netherlands. Considering the devastation that followed Irma on September 6th, 2017, this year’s forum, hosted in The Hague by USC for students & young professionals, was created with the aim of discussing topics that have not yet received the focus they deserved. A group of about 50 persons was in attendance. Topics covered included education on sustainable survival skills, mental preparedness, and communication protocol before, during and after a disaster.

After a hearty Sint Maarten’s day breakfast catered by A Touch of Sint Maarten, the day began with a welcome by USC-NL Chapter Director Christella Garard who stated, “Although far from St. Maarten/St. Martin geographically, we hold St. Maarten dear to our hearts and our contributions to the island matters. Today we’ll celebrate St. Maarten’s Day by discussing ways to better equip the community on St. Maarten for hurricane season”. This was followed by a presentation and discussion lead by keynote speaker Hans Muller of CrisisProfs. Using his background in crisis management and his current position as the head of counter-terrorism at the North-Holland police department, he spoke about crisis and public order management. His talk focused on what actions to take before (prevention, pro-action and warning) and after (economic recovery, emergency repair and public order) a disaster presented through the bowtie model. Muller then facilitated discussion from attendees about building effective warning systems, centralising aid, and building awareness among the general population. Attendees also discussed building a more personal, transparent relationship with government to regain confidence in our country’s leaders.

The forum continued with a communication focus with the second speaker Raul A. James, an embedded software engineer with a background in electrical engineering, who spoke on telecommunications in relation to hurricanes. His talk focused on the importance on getting (tele)communication up as soon as possible post-hurricanes and how we can use simpler forms of communications in times of disaster, a topic that was touched on in Muller’s talk. James emphasised the importance of secure underground connections, redundant infrastructures and potential alternative networks such as a Mesh network that allows for communication via SMS. He also highlighted newer, innovative solutions being developed by companies such as Google’s Loon Project. The talk ended with a focus on information management particularly questions of accessibility and security of personal data. Following this talk, the attendants were divided into groups for a break out session where they discussed communications in a broad sense and brainstormed solutions to problems the island is currently faced with.

The topic of sustainability and survival were covered by a variety of speakers. Sheldon Ellis, a civil engineer with work experience at VROMI, Simpsonbay causeway and Windward Roads, gave a talk on a sustainable approach to rebuilding. He spoke on areas where Sint Maarten could improve and learn from Aruba regarding marketing sustainability, innovative business models and legislation. His final thoughts were for a focus on increasing local agriculture, increasing shores and off-shore wind turbines as a source for green energy. Djeannio A. Hobson followed on the sustainability theme with a talk on education on sustainable survival with respects to natural disasters. Hobson emphasised that the focus should be a macro level to improve infrastructure. With an apt The Three Little Pigs analogy, he highlighted inconsistent standards for construction of homes and lack of awareness of minimum standards. He further called for stricter, up-to-date building codes as well as better enforcement of these standards and accountability. The sustainability and survival portion of the

forum was closed off with survival tips from Ruben Schaminee a sports coordinator and scout. He first went over survival tips for during a hurricane including having a designated safe house with food and water for 5 days, important documents, a whistle and a first aid kit. Schaminee ended his talk with a demonstration of the best ways to tie rope and secure roofs with tarpaulin.

Maartje Bakker, who had previously lived and worked in St. Maarten, spoke on mental preparedness with a focus on children and teens. She spoke of her work with other psychologists on the island to prepare packages and kits for children dealing with post-hurricane trauma. She talks about building trust to understand individual needs emphasising that “initiatives are only successful if the community and all members feel safe and secure and have the ability to cope with stressful situations”. Maartje ended her talk calling for mental healthcare to be put on the agenda as it is often left out of the discussion.

Following another break-out session, attendees were brought together to debate solutions and ideas regarding the issues post-Irma. These thoughts included the need for research to be conducted and realistic time-frames for the implementation of new standards. Additionally, the need for the development of the appropriate legal framework was also discussed. The results of discussions will be published as a report by USC within the next month.

EquipSXM was closed with a speech by Minister Plenipotentiary Henrietta Doran York honouring Sint Maarten’s Day. In her piece, she highlighted the history of the day and the unity between the French and the Dutch sides of the island. Additionally, she stated that this year’s celebration come both in light of and despite the destruction in the wake of Irma. The day concluded with attending the official Sint Maarten’s Day celebration followed by Encore for Sint Maarten in Amsterdam. The proceeds for these events will go towards aid for the island.

The 2018 Sint Maarten’s Day forum will take place in France and hosted by Pelicarus per their collaboration with USC.

Yannicka Mardenborough