United Kingdom (UK) ships RFA Argus and HMS Medway will be conducting a hurricane response exercise on Norman Island on Sunday 16 and Monday 17, August.
The Governor’s Office announced that the exercise will allow the UK Task Group to practice their response to any damage that a hurricane could cause, which includes delivering humanitarian aid and disaster relief by landing people and essential supplies ashore in order to support the people of the British Virgin Islands.
Deputy to the Governor, Mr. David D Archer, Jr. said due to the pandemic, this year’s hurricane season presents an unprecedented challenge and preparation is more important than ever.
Mr. Archer, Jr. said, “This exercise will ensure that if the Territory requires extra help after a storm, the crew on board RFA Argus and HMS Medway can effectively respond in a way that protects public health and meets our greatest needs. As always, the safety and security of the people of the British Virgin Islands is top priority.”
Royal Navy Commander Kate Muir, Head of the UK Task Group, said, “We are well positioned and prepared to offer support to BVI in the aftermath of a hurricane, if it is needed. As with any activity, we become more effective each time we practice, which is why I am grateful to the Governor and the Premier to have this chance to exercise on Norman Island.”
The two ships will carry emergency aid from the UK’s Department for International Development. This includes food, water, sanitation products and medical supplies, along with equipment that can help clear and repair some of the damage.
The ships will enter Territorial waters on Thursday, August 13 and anyone going ashore in the exercise will be tested for COVID-19 by the Task Force’s medical team, and their samples will be flown via helicopter to Tortola for testing on Thursday. Only once the BVI Health Service Authority has confirmed that all tests are negative for COVID-19 will the team be able to depart the ship.
Strict safety measures are in place for the exercise and the crew has been working closely with the Governor’s Office, the Premier’s Office and the Ministry of Health to ensure full compliance with the Territory’s COVID-19 measures.
During the exercise on Norman Island, the team will be located away from the Bight and areas likely to have visitors and will maintain a strict isolation on ship and follow social distancing and hygiene practices while on board. The team’s landing on Norman Island will have been isolated at sea for 12 days. On return to ship, they will conduct a clean down process called Op Dry Out to cleanse each individual, and they will then be monitored for any symptoms in the days following the exercise.
This exercise is expected to build on the preparatory work conducted earlier this year during the helicopter flyovers on April 17, where the team surveyed the islands’ topography and identified how to deliver relief to the most remote communities. These ongoing exercises are also a strong signal of the UK’s commitment to supporting the British Virgin Islands.
Response exercises such as these are expected to support the extensive preparations already in place in the Territory. Some of these include the creation of a new satellite Emergency Operations Centre in East End Long Look; installation of new sirens throughout the Territory; publication of new COVID-19 hurricane guidance for the public; preparedness sessions for community groups and the public; and training for shelter managers.