The Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) has completed a year-long COVID-19 rapid response grant for €203,384 supported by RESEMBID, which has reiterated the importance of people in crisis prevention planning. A panel of experts, who took part in a CCMI hosted webinar on March 9th 2023, discussed the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic on businesses operating from remote locations. The experts identified the critical need for improved planning for staff and volunteer burn-out and post-event wellbeing management, areas which are often under-represented in crisis management planning.
RESEMBID is a 48-project progamme funded by the European Union and implemented by Expertise France - the development cooperation agency of the Government of France and supports sustainable human development efforts in 12 Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) - Aruba, Anguilla, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Montserrat, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Barthélemy, Sint Maarten and Turks and Caicos. This grant was awarded to CCMI to improve health and safety features of the facilities infrastructure and to adapt emergency management processes, to support enhanced operational resilience in the face of global hazards such as COVID-19.
CCMI held the “Adapting to COVID-19" webinar in March 2023, with industry experts to discuss planning and prevention techniques that can be adapted and utilised by organisations to prepare for hazards such as a global pandemic. The panel included Dr. Nick Gent (Chief Medical Officer for the Cayman Islands), Danielle Coleman (Hazard Management Director for the Cayman Islands), Greg Locher (EMS professional), and Aaron Otis (Assistant Deputy Secretary for County Health System, Florida). The discussion included a summary of the experts’ experiences during COVID-19 and ways to improve crisis management planning using an all-hazards approach, building a framework of key risks (such as respiratory health and hurricanes), which can be applied to a range of organisations. The panel summarised that predictive and adaptive hazard management plans need to be developed to provide a sufficient organisational response to a crisis. Adaptive planning must include concise understanding of where increased pressure will be felt during the surge and aftermath aspects of a hazard, pertaining to both people and resource management.
Yet the clear area of interest during the discussion was the impact of a crisis on staff and volunteer mental health, not only during the ‘surge’ element of the crisis but during a prolonged hazard (such as COVID-19) and then post-event. Burn-out in the aftermath of a hazard, highlighted by the length of the COVID-19 crisis is more poignant than before. The panel concluded that wellbeing and post-traumatic mental health were priority areas that need to be further explored and integrated into hazard management planning frameworks. The nature of COVID-19 and any future respiratory health crisis puts people at the centre of the risk management, highlighting the need for business-critical contingency planning, as people become vectors of a respiratory disease and a lifeline in caring for people who must be isolated, at the same time.
CCMI Director of Advancement Kate Holden reiterated how the panel’s conclusion emulated CCMI’s experience during COVID-19:
“CCMI has a relatively small number of staff and this meant each and every one of us had to adapt and take on different roles to operate during COVID-19. As with all companies, we also had to incorporate ‘being unwell’ into our operational mandate, not only as staff contracted/isolated from COVID-19 but also in the face of an outbreak at our facility. The knock-on effect of living and working with COVID-19 beyond the initial lockdown crisis meant asking staff to take on more or adapt to keep everything moving - and this phase lasted years. Yet managing wellbeing was not in our policies and is still an area we need to incorporate into our hazard management plans. Taking into account the impact of hazard management on mental health is not an area well developed for smaller organisations to emulate (in terms of policies and protocols), so this will take some consideration.”
The panel also discussed the fatigue from discussion about hazard management, as staff want to ‘forget’ the negatives associated with the pandemic. The panel summarised however that knowing how your business can adapt and (importantly) continue to adapt during a hazard is now business critical and it is important to continue to develop and adjust hazard management to improve business resiliency in the face of risk.