Reflecting On Our Mission

By Ryan West

The Atlantic Hurricane Season triggers countless emotions for many Virgin Islanders and residents of the VI. This is not only a time when we are busy preparing for the possibilities of  storms; it is also a time of year that we tend to remember the one storm that changed the course of so many lives. 

On September 6, 2017 Hurricane Irma cut a path of destruction through the Caribbean basin, impacting the lives of millions. With record high wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, Irma was one of the deadliest and to date the strongest storm on record in the Atlantic region. St. John was utterly devastated; the island experienced widespread destruction to its structures, roads, critical infrastructure and widespread power loss.

13 days later, Hurricane Maria followed, and delivered a second, crushing blow. St. John received over 3 feet of rain in under 24 hours, and response efforts made by our sister islands were forced to halt completely. Maria was the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, with peak winds of 175mph.

To say that such unprecedented natural disasters changed the reality of everyday life in the Virgin Islands would be an understatement. The team at Love City Strong suffered our share of losses due to the storms of 2017. Many of us lost our homes or our jobs, and some of us endured even greater personal hardships. 

However, just as our shared experiences as survivors of natural disasters are what brought us together, it is our collective passion for preparedness that keeps us motivated and helps us to get through this difficult time of year. It is fitting, then, that the anniversary of Hurricanes Irma and Maria falls during National Preparedness Month—A time to ensure that the impact of natural disasters is reduced through meaningful action.

For LCS, meaningful action means implementing strategies that worked after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in a more organized fashion, and ensuring that response assets are prestaged on the island and ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

Each year, we deploy 25 seasonal employees who are on standby from July through November; they are trained in a variety of safety, first aid, and professional first responder protocols. Part of this team are trained to remove debris from secondary roadways. All members of this team are Virgin Islanders or longtime residents who have lived on St. John for no less than five years, and they are from a variety of backgrounds and age ranges to better reflect the diversity of the community. 

We maintain a variety of response assets, including large commercial generators and several pieces of heavy equipment, that we can provide to essential businesses should the need arise. We facilitate the permanent storage of FEMA assets on St. John, including shelf sustainable water and MREs, to ensure that we do not need to wait for commodities to be transported from another island. We also coordinate with the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) to assist them in their hurricane readiness efforts, like distributing sandbags and blue roof materials.

We perform pre-event and post-event wellness checks on hundreds of residents every single time that a storm is headed our way, regardless of its size, and assist seniors and persons with access and functional needs in their preparedness efforts.

Though our preparedness priorities shift as we face new and dynamic challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, our core mission remains the same: Take meaningful action and utilize the human resources present in the community to ensure that St. John is better prepared for disasters. While we will never forget the traumatic experience of the 2017 hurricanes that brought us together, we have a collective commitment to being part of a stronger, more prepared community. The passion that guided our actions immediately following Irma and Maria continues to drive us in our constantly evolving preparedness and response programs.