On June 7, 2010 an Executive Session meeting was held at the Police Conference Center in East Street, Nassau , Bahamas to launch a week-long training course on remote sensing imagery for hazards. The objective was to initiate the first-ever disaster preparedness Workshop with the Government of The Bahamas to provide historic training to National Emergency Management Agency’s (NEMA’s) first responders as part of an innovative initiative involving the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), US Department of Defense - United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and The Bahamian National Geographic Information Systems (BNGIS) Center. Opening and welcoming remarks were conveyed by the Honorable Phenton Neymour M.P. Minister of State for The Environment, along with Mr. Timothy Zuniga-Brown, Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy, Captain Stephen Russell, Director of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and Mr. Daniel Hansen, Program Manager, USNORTHCOM Humanitarian Assistance Program.
A 3-day course was conducted at the BNGIS entitled: “Satellite and RADAR Imagery Applications for Hazards Professionals “ by Peter Chirico, Kate Malpeli and Jean Weaver from the USGS. Fifteen selected participants representing the Bahamas National Geographic Information Systems Centre, Royal Bahamas Defense Force, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, The Water & Sewerage Corporation, Grand Bahama Port Authority, the Meteorological Department, Bahamas Electricity Corporation, NEMA, C.R. Walker Senior High School teacher and students, and the Department of Environmental Health Services provided an excellent cross section of users.
The comprehensive hands-on training included two days dedicated towards targeting how to acquire and download appropriate satellite imagery, and apply it to ultimately strengthen the capability to reduce the risks and impacts of natural disasters, in particular flood hazards in The Bahamas, as well as provide timely and effective emergency response. The third day of the course included a field trip to Wilson Pond and Bonefish Pond, two National parks which have been recently renovated. These sites served as excellent venues to fine tune participants ability to “ground truth” the targeted surface area to rectify and compare the corresponding satellite images.
The course finished on Friday with participants evaluating the workshop, exploring next steps and the presentation of certificates by Ms Carolann Albury, Director of the BNGIS. Several agencies left the course with specific projects that are currently being vetted through their respective agencies as possible steps forward. The term “Ambassadors of Science” was voiced several times throughout the course and seemed to reflect the enthusiastic support and interest expressed by all participants.
This training would not have been possible without the financial support from USNORTHCOM in support of this course, as one of their many disaster preparedness projects vetted through and endorsed by the US Embassy and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In addition to this project, USNORTHCOM is working with Captain Stephen Russell, Director of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on major projects to construct and equip two disaster warehouses, one in Freeport, Grand Bahama, one in Great Inagua, and to provide training of personnel to operate them. They are also teaming with NEMA to plan and build a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center in Nassau.
Ms Albury summarized the significance of the week-long remote sensing imagery course as being an important step towards achieving a single vision: “to protect the health and environment of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas through sustainable emergency preparedness enabled by highly trained professionals, to address all types of disasters and emergencies.” She said that in addition to the excellent training which was provided by USGS, their kind gesture to provide training materials for schools will add another dimension to the Centre’s planned “ GIS Boot Camp Program” . This program will become a part of the Centre’s ongoing Geographic Information Education initiative in collaboration with the Ministry of Education where students and teachers explore modern technologies in the school system.
Another onsite visit to The Bahamas by USGS is expected in August 2010 when the Centre in collaboration with NEMA and Stakeholder agencies will meet again in order to maintain contact and provide additional scientific guidance on the application of remote sensing.