Jamaica's experience with Hurricane Ivan: the case for mitigation and preparedness programmes

By Barbara E. Carby


Jamaica, 18N and 77W ( Fig 1) lies within the North Atlantic hurricane belt. In addition to hurricanes, the island is vulnerable to several hazards, including floods, landslides, drought, fires and earthquakes. A dedicated office for disaster management was established in 1980. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), is responsible for management of all hazards threatening the country, and is mandated to manage all aspects of disaster management, including risk reduction.

The ODPEM is able to discharge this mandate by development of partnerships with a wide variety of agencies and organisations. This inclusive approach has the twin benefits of allowing the agency to carry out a number of programmes which it would not be able to do in isolation,as well as providing the opportunity to influence the national risk reduction agenda through the programmes of its partners.

The 2004 hurricane season posed a major challenge to the country. On August 10, Hurricane Charley, a category 1 storm, passed along the island's south coast. It caused extensive flooding in sections of southern parishes. Four weeks later, Hurricane Ivan, followed a similar path, though with far more devastating results.


Tropical Depression Number Nine formed in the Eastern Atlantic on September 2, 2004. By September 5, it had become Hurricane Ivan, the ninth tropical cyclone of the 2004 north Atlantic season. Ivan, initially forecast to pass directly over Jamaica as a category 5 storm, eventually passed along the south coast between September 10 and 11. At its closest point of approach it was 30 km south of the parish of Clarendon. Strongest winds recorded were at 214km/hr on the Pedro Bank, 90 km off the south coast. Doppler radar estimates sustained winds of 180km/h across the island during the early hours of September 11.


Although not making landfall, Ivan resulted in fourteen deaths, and caused damage across the island, with southern parishes suffering the greatest damage. Storm surges of 3-4 metres in some locations caused extensive damage to natural coastal systems and housing, and was responsible for several deaths. Wind damage to vegetation and roofs was also severe, particularly at higher elevations.

Total cost of damage, direct and indirect is $J 35.9billion (US$ 595,000). Of that total, direct damage is calculated at $J 22.23 billion and Indirect at $J 13.7 billion.


Public Education and Awareness

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management maintains a year-round national Public Education and Awareness Programme. The major objectives of the programme are to maintain interest and participation in disaster management at all levels of the nation, and to ensure that the public has the necessary information to protect lives and property. This proves difficult between major events, particularly if the time lapse is great. Various strategies such as focussing on anniversaries of events, celebrating special days for different sectors - Disaster Preparedness Day for Businesses, Earthquake Awareness Day in Schools, permit sectors of the public to focus on preparatory measures. ODPEM has also used well-known personalities and entertainers to promote awareness. Promotion of public awareness has been assisted by the electronic media which provides access to prime air time at highly discounted rates or free of cost. These programmes, which have wide listnership, are used to promote the value of prevention and mitigation as well as preparedness.

The programme also includes lectures to government offices, hotels and other businesses, schools, as well as assisting these entities in development of contingency and recovery plans. drills and exercises.

Community Teams

Following Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, the need for giving communities the skills to be able to manage the hazards to which they are vulnerable was evident. ODPEM began a programme of skills transfer to communities including development of flood warning teams, search and rescue, first aid, contingency planning and shelter management. Communities also identified mitigation interventions and provided labour for execution of these activities. This programme has been adopted by the Jamaica Red Cross, one of ODPEM's partner agencies, and is being implemented under one of their projects, thus expanding the reach of the programme.

Those communities with these skills systematically respond better to events, and are able to assist themselves and response agencies with evacuation, shelter, assessments and management of supplies.

Cleaning of Drain and Gullies

Kingston is dissected by large paved drains called gullies into which the smaller drainage network empties. The smaller drains as well as gullies are often blocked by solid waste placed there by residents or washed in during heavy rainfall. Responsibility for cleaning the drains is shared between the National Works Agency (NWA) and the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), the local authority. In the past, drain cleaning has been hampered by lack of funding. Clogged drains have resulted in significant urban flooding, damage to infrastructure and dislocation of communities.

In July, 2004 the Mother White Gully overflowed, flooding the offices of the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. The flood waters damaged computers, photocopy machines and important records as well as eight motor cars. The office had to close for three days to allow clean-up. A final figure for the damage is not available, but was estimated at approximately J$ 500,000 (1US$ = 61J$). The Fisheries Division also reported that this was the third incident within three years.

Maximum recorded twenty-four rainfall in Kingston and St Andrew for that period was 66mm.

In addition, rainfall distribution was very restricted, with most of the city experiencing only light drizzle. The overflow and flooding were therefore surprising and pointed unequivocally to the clogged gully, rather than the volume or intensity of rainfall.

Over the last two years, both the NWA and the KSAC embarked on a programme of drain cleaning prior to the onset of heavy rains in May and continuing into the hurricane season. This programme has reduced the incidence of urban flooding. Despite this approach, funding was not available for cleaning all drains. Thus, the Mother White Gully had not been cleaned up to July, but was cleaned after the flooding of the Fisheries Offices. Other parish councils have followed the example of the KSAC, with the result that the ongoing cleaning and maintenance programme has been implemented islandwide. The concensus of opinion is there has been a marked, if unquantified reduction in flooding since the implementation of this programme. ODPEM has consistently promoted mitigation as an essential part of disaster management, and supported the efforts to secure funding for the drain cleaning programme. In addition, the Mayor of Kingston and the Chief Executive Officer of the NWA consistently argued for a cleaning and maintenance programme for drains and gullies. A policy decision was eventually taken for provision of funding for the programmes.

Rainfall records for hurricane Ivan indicate that for Kingston and St Andrew, cumulative rainfall was well over the 30 yr mean, and approached or exceeded the 100yr rainfall event (Table 1).

TABLE 1 Cumulative Rainfall associated with Hurricane Ivan for Kingston and St Andrew

Kingston/St Andrew
30 yr Mean
% of Mean
Highest 24h Total
100 yr
Mavis Bank
Rose Hill

Despite the high level of rainfall, no overflow of gullies necessitating evacuation was reported. Significantly, the Mother White gully, which had been cleaned in early August, did not overflow.


Jamaica's coastline is heavily populated. Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner, contributing of the country's inflows. This necessitates development of the coastline. In addition, most of the cities and towns, including the capital, are on the coast. One coastal development is of particular concern, however, because of its high population. Portmore is a residential area of some two hundred thousand situated west of the capital Kingston and on Kingston Harbour. Portmore is vulnerable to storm surge, particularly to storms approaching from the south - east. A five metre surge would require evacuation of approximately 70 000 residents. An evacuation plan was developed for Portmore and a full scale exercise involving residents was run in 2000. This proved to be very useful as it revealed the need to increase the awareness programme for the residents. Improvement of inter-agency cooperation was also identified as a need. These gaps were addressed. Each year a major exhibition has been staged in Portmore at the busiest shopping mall. This has proved to be very popular, and residents were able to inform themselves on the evacuation plan as well as on general hazard-related information. The evacuation plan was also revised, with the inputs of all players.

When Hurricane Ivan threatened, an evacuation advisory was given for Portmore. The public bus company, the security forces, shelter managers and municipal disaster committee were all activated. The level of pre-planning, as well as the simulation exercise and a continuous public awareness exercises allowed residents to find assembly points easily. Provision of transportation, traffic control and security for evacuated areas went smoothly.

Despite all the preparatory measures, however, many residents decided not to evacuate. Others evacuated using private transportation.

Elsewhere in coastal areas persons evacuated on their own, following advisories issued by the ODPEM. As a result, although populated areas were affected by storm surge which destroyed over one hundred homes, loss of life was minimised.


The example of Cable and Wireless is from the private sector, but has national implications. During the 1990s, Cable and Wireless undertook a systematic programme of placing much of their telephone line network underground. As a result, there was minimal loss of telephone service during and after the hurricane.

This had benefits beyond the obvious economic ones for the company. In the absence of a fully functioning emergency radio telecommunications system, telephones were the most reliable means of communication for the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC). Without the telephone service, it would have been impossible for the NEOC manage the response and to maintain contact with parishes.


Developing countries are inevitably constrained by inadequate resources. Rarely will the national disaster management office be spared this constraint. Disaster management must compete with other national priorities. In this situation, it becomes even more important that losses from disasters be reduced, as this has implications for national development. The national disaster management office must ensure that risk reduction receives national focus, and may need to employ a variety of strategies to be successful.

Successful mitigation programmes, though simple, can be used to introduce the wider issues of mitigation to policy makers and communities, and provide useful points of departure for dialogue on risk reduction.

Benefits of proactive mitigation approaches may not be quantifiable in dollar values, however they may be demonstrable. Successes should be pointed out and recorded. The success of drain cleaning and maintenance in reducing flooding in Kingston and St Andrew has resulted in regular funding allocations for this programme by local and national authorities, as well as widespread adoption.

Even in situations where the NDO may not be directly involved in an activity, it can influence risk reduction by supporting partner agencies, and by advocacy.

The importance of the media, particularly the electronic media, to raising and maintaining focus on risk reduction even in the absence of headline - grabbing disasters, must be recognized. Promotion of the risk reduction agenda by credible programme hosts can significantly strengthen the efforts of the national disaster management office.


The authour wishes to thank the Fisheries Division, the National Meteorological Service, Mr Errol Greene and the Mitigation, Planning and Research Division of ODPEM for their assistance in preparing this paper.


1. Greene, Errol, Drain Cleaning as a method of Mitigation: The Experiences of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation, Unpublished Report, KSAC, 2004

2. Fisheries Division, Rose Town residents clean up after flood, The Observer, Friday July 16, 2004

3. Flooding closes Fisheries Division, The Daily Gleaner, Friday July 16, 2004

4. Register of rainfall recorded during 2004, National Meteorological Service, Jamaica

5. Macro Socio-economic and Environmental Assessment of the Damage done by Hurricane Ivan, September 10-12, 2004, Unpublished Report, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and United Nations Development Programme, 2004, 75pp


Barbara E. Carby
Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
12 Camp Rd.
Kingston 4
E-mail: bcarby@odpem.org.jm