Caribbean Disaster Preparedness Agencies and Their Impact on COVID-19 Management

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 5

The small island developing states in the Caribbean because of their size, economy and relative isolation depend on each other for their survival. Historically, there has been close cooperation, and this is evident in successful regional integration efforts such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), headquartered in Georgetown, Guyana and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), with its headquarters in Castries, St. Lucia. This sustained collaboration has resulted in the creation of many important institutions across various sectors, and the emergence and sharing of best practices.

It has been posited that the Caribbean’s successful response to, and management of COVID-19, can be attributed to several factors. Among them are (1) the region’s geography and susceptibility to recurring natural disasters such as hurricanes, volcanoes, and earthquakes, (2) experience with outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, dengue, chikungunya (CHIKV), and ZIKA,  (3) the institutional capacity that has been built up over time to manage these disasters, through disaster management agencies; and (4) the coordinating roles of disaster and public health agencies such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR)and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

There are 15 CARICOM member states, 5 associate states, and 8 states with observer status. This report provides an overview of the various disaster management agencies operating in the CARICOM/OECS region. Discussion is limited to the disaster agencies of the 20 CARICOM member and associate states (including some British Overseas Territories). States with observer status will therefore not be included.

CDEMA’s Coordinating Role

The CDEMA is an inter-regional agency with a coordinating role for comprehensive disaster management in the Caribbean. It has been especially influential during the pandemic. There are currently 19 participating states, and CARICOM and non-CARICOM states are eligible for membership. For more information on CDEMA and its mandate, see here. CDEMA also prepares frequent Situation Reports. For statistics and more country-specific data, check out the COVID-19 Situation Update.

Three important CDEMA resources that are utilized by the region are its Early Warning Systems; the Regional Training Center, and the Canada Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Fund (CCDRM). The CCDRM is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and is administered from the Canadian High Commission in Barbados.

Caribbean Disaster Management Agencies

Below are brief summaries of existing Caribbean disaster management agencies. An attempt has been made to include, where available, their mandates, structures, reports, and any recent COVID-19 related legislation. Generally, most of the websites that were reviewed had varying degrees of COVID-19 information including prevention, management, and statistics. In cases where there were no pages or sections devoted to COVID-19, some sites did link to the CDEMA webpage. The currency of information varied, depending on the last updates to these websites.

Anguilla: The Department of Disaster Management is Anguilla’s disaster management agency. The website is in the process of being updated, so some content is a bit dated and there were no links to COVID-19 yet.

Antigua and Barbuda: The National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) was established in 1984 as a division in the Ministry of Health and Home Affairs. In 2002, the House of Representatives passed the National Disaster Legislation.

Bahamas: The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is the disaster management agency for the Bahamas. NEMA is in fact a Disaster Management Committee comprised of representatives drawn from ministries, departments, and the private sector, with the Cabinet Office having a coordinating role. There were links to COVID-19, including legislation and updates on number of cases. These were located under the “What’s New in Government” link.

Barbados: Barbados has a Department of Emergency Management (DEM) with a mandate to “develop, promote and maintain a comprehensive National Disaster Management Programme”. District Emergency Organizations act as the volunteer arm of the DEM, working at the community level to facilitate local engagement. The DEM’s current Strategic Plan covers 2019-2023.

Belize: National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) is Belize’s disaster management agency. NEMO has a very elaborate structure. The Prime Minister is the Chairperson, and there are 9 District Emergency Committees, as well as partnership with private and public agencies. For more on NEMO’s composition, see here. NEMO’s website had substantial information on COVID-19, including a shelter management simulation exercise.

Bermuda: Bermuda has an Emergency Measures Organization (EMO). There were links to COVID-19 outlining cases and preventive measures.

British Virgin Islands: BVI Department of Disaster Management is charged with disaster management in BVI. From its “Documents Centre” tab, there are links to legislation, as well as other publications, such as reports, plans and studies.

Cayman Islands: Cayman Prepared is the Cayman Islands National Emergency Website. In 2007, the government established Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI) which is the agency responsible for the management of natural or man-made disasters, as well as for the implementation of the National Hurricane Plan.

Dominica: Dominica’s Office of Disaster Management (ODM) is located in the Ministry of National Security and Home Affairs. ODM collaborates with the National Emergency Planning Organisation (NEPO), an agency responsible for planning at the central level.

Grenada: The National Disaster Management Agency (NaDMA) covers Grenada and its territories of Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Its General Documents tab has links to the Grenada Country Report, the status of hazard maps as well as other resources.

Guyana: The Civil Defence Commission (CDC) was established in 1982 “to make plans and conduct operations to deal with all types of disaster in Guyana.” Under its “Resources” tab, there are links to news and situation reports. However, there were no 2020 situation reports, and no direct links to COVID-19 information or resources. There was a May 15, 2019 posting of the draft Disaster Risk Management Legislation for Guyana, with a request for public and stakeholder feedback. 

Haiti: I was not able to find a specific agency responsible for disaster management in Haiti. However, I located information on the recent publication by Prevention Web, of Haiti’s National Risk and Disaster Plan, 2019-2030.  The report is in French, but the English translation is available on Prevention Web. The plan was prepared with assistance from the United Nations Office for Risk Reduction (UNDRR) Regional Office for the Americas, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Jamaica: The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is an agency of the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development. It has a National Emergency Response Geographic Information System Team (NERGIST) which does spatial mapping of information on the virus. Check out the ODPEM’s National Legislation, Plans and Policies for COVID-19 related legislation.

Montserrat: The lead agency for disaster management in Montserrat is the Disaster Management Coordination Agency (DMCA). There was a recent COVID-19 update.

St. Kitts/Nevis: The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)  oversees disaster management for St. Kitts & Nevis. The Prime Minister has responsibility for disaster management. There were no recent links to legislation or COVID-19.

St. Lucia: St. Lucia has had an Office of Disaster Preparedness since the 1990s.  Legislation in 2000, and later 2006 changed the name to the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). NEMO’s library has many useful documents, including annual reports, model plans, vulnerability and capacity assessment and other educational materials.

St. Vincent & The Grenadines: The National Emergency and Disaster Management Act of 2006 is the legislative basis for the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). There were sufficient links to COVID-19 related items on the Ministry of Health’s website including reports and protocols.

Suriname: It appears that Suriname’s Ministry of Defense coordinates disaster relief through the National Coordination Center for Disaster Relief, based on this article by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recover (GFDRR). I was not able to find a direct link to the Center. However, this Disaster Risk Reduction Country Document for Suriname prepared by UNDRR is informative. Though dated 2014, it appears to have been published in 2017. This UNDP-RBLAC status report on Suriname, published in June, also provides an overview of the COVID-19 situation there.

Trinidad & Tobago: The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) coordinates Trinidad & Tobago’s disaster management. The ODPM is a division of the Ministry of National Security, and reports to the National Security Council and the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Disaster Risk Management. There is a Policies, Plans, and Legislation link, as well as ample linkages to information on COVID-19.

Turks & Caicos Islands: Disaster management in Turks & Caicos is handled by the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME). This overview on its history and structure is helpful. There is a “Resources” tab which contains links to plans, reports, legislation, and other useful items. However, up to the time of writing this update, there were no links to legislative materials yet.

As this update has shown, the Caribbean has, over decades, established disaster management agencies in almost all its territories. Over this period, it has built up expertise in disaster management, geographic information systems/mapping, epidemiology and coordinating at both the local and regional level with agencies such as CDEMA. Over this period as well, the Caribbean has created policies and legislation which have bolstered the region’s response to crises. While their focus historically has been managing natural disasters, over time, some agencies have had to expand their mandate/operations to   disease management. Recent experience with emerging diseases such as ZIKA and ChikV, the enactment of new legislation, as well as expanded roles and mandates of these agencies, have undoubtedly prepared the region to effectively manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Yasmin Morais


Emily Wilinson, COVID-19: A Lesson in Leadership from the Caribbean. (May 18, 2020). (last accessed August 17, 2020).

Ian R. Hambleton, Selvi M. Jeyaseelan, Madhuvanti M. Murphy COVID-19 in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States: Lessons Learnt from Extreme Weather Events. The Lancet Global Health. (July 2, 2020). (last accessed August 27, 2020).

OECS, COVID-19 and Beyond. Impact Assessments and Responses. (last accessed September 4, 2020)

Pax Global Media, Disaster management has helped the Caribbean fight COVID-19: CHTA. (June 6, 2020). (last accessed August 27, 2020).

Sophie Hares, Covid-19 risks complicating Caribbean hurricane season. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). (April 27, 2020). (last accessed September 3, 2020).

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