Photo: BVI. Chief Fire Officer Zebalon McLean welcomes attendees to the East End/Long Look Fire Station.

The British Virgin Islands has announced the installation of its first Satellite Emergency Operations Centre(EOC) at the East End/Long Look Fire Station following a partnership between the Department of Disaster Management and the Caribbean Development Bank.

His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert, speaking at the handover ceremony on Monday, said the project was just in time for this year’s hurricane season, and said it reflects a positive response to lessons learnt from the disaster impacts of 2017.

Governor Jaspert said, “We pray we don’t face any other disasters, but should we face those disasters, we now have a local base within the community to serve as a communications hub linked in with the national effort.”

The BVI goverment press release reveals few details about the new equipment, but typically a satellite EOC might offer Radio over Internet Protocol, which is similar to Voice over IP (VoIP), but augments two-way radio communications rather than telephone calls.

Systems like this usually have batteries charged with solar power, so that they can work even when the electricity is out and cell phone communications are down so that different emergency services or islands can still communicate with each other.

Hurricane Irma.

Photo: NASA. Hurricane Irma over the Virgin Islands in 2017.

Hurricane Irma struck the British Virgin Islands as a Category 5 hurricane during the daylight hours of Wednesday, 6 September 2017. It caused widespread destruction, and killed a total of four people. The eye of the hurricane traveled over the three major islands in the group: Virgin Gorda, Tortola and Jost Van Dyke.

Governor Jaspert, who had only been sworn in a few days previously, declared a state of emergency under the Territory’s constitution, the first time this had ever happened.

As radio facilities had been significantly damaged and were inoperable, the state of emergency had to be announced by distribution of paper flyers around the capital, Road Town.

After the storm, restoration of electricity took approximately 5 months.