So says Emergency Management director Charles Carlson, who says the responsibility for preparedness in the homes must remain with the individual household.
“We can do our upmost at a national level, but if people chose to ignore the warning then we are heading for a disaster,” Carlson says.
As for lessons learned from previous disasters, Carlson says a crucial lesson from past cyclones including Tropical Cyclone Pat in 2010 is that people were too complacent.
“People were complacent going about their daily chores without heeding to the warnings and the danger that lay ahead.”
Hindsight sometimes comes at a huge cost, so hopefully this time round the Cook Islands will have learned the lesson, Carlson says.
A priority for EMCI, he says, is to ensure all government ministries, outer island councils, various organisations and communities including the private sector, do at least have a basic response or contingency plan in place.
Carlson says he finds this challenging, because disaster preparedness is not their EMCI’s core service so it doesn’t register on the priority list.
However he adds that there is a better awareness of it now since Cyclone Pat in 2010 and some disastrous cyclones in the Pacific Region.
During CyclonePat, Carlson says some response agencies were ‘a bit lost’ and had no idea what they were supposed to be doing.
“I couldn’t believe it as I expected them to know exactly what their national roles and responsibilities are during an event.”
EMCI is now reviewing its National Disaster Risk Management plan and Carlson says this should help define the roles and responsibilities of responding agencies or essential services.
“That should put us in a better position to respond effectively and efficiently during an event.
“Everyone needs to change this mindset that EMCI will sort it out, or ‘don’t worry, government will sort it out’.”
He says the reality is government cannot do it on their own, and a concentrated effort is required from everyone, from government to individual householders.
While EMCI is seen as the ambulance at the bottom of the hill picking up the pieces, Carlson believes a lot more can be done to lessen the effects of natural disasters.
“We can’t stop cyclones from happening, but we can actually do a lot to at least minimise their impact,” Carlson says.
He says this involves simple things like tying roofs down, trimming trees close to houses and having a contingency plan in place if disaster does strike.