Here we are in May, again, and it’s time to start thinking about our hurricane preparedness efforts. For those of us who live in “hurricane alley”, these tasks are annual habits. Forming habits can be helpful, but sometimes they can make us complacent. Each year, it’s important to revisit your emergency plan, check your kit, and make sure your home and family are ready for the season.  Threats from hurricanes include powerful winds, heavy rainfall, storm surges, coastal and inland flooding, rip currents, tornadoes, and landslides. Hurricanes can often undergo rapid intensification, meaning they can quickly gain strength before and as they make landfall. For this reason, it’s important to begin your preparation well in advance of an incoming storm. Before hurricane season starts, you should:
  • Update your emergency plan with your family
  • Check your insurance and strengthen your home
  • Assemble disaster supplies
  • Help your neighbors
Update Your Emergency Plan Your emergency plan is a critical part of your family’s preparedness. It should include shelter in place details and/or evacuation plans, including a rally point if the family is separated for some reason. Each member of your family should participate in developing your plan, including the kids! Plan for medical needs, food, water, pets, critical documents, entertainment during the storm impact period, power outages… anything that may affect your family’s ability to weather the storm safely and comfortably. Make sure that you identify emergency contacts, including at least one outside of your area, and that everyone in your family has that contact information readily available. Write down your plan, and keep it handy along with any critical documents like insurance paperwork, a lease or mortgage, birth certificates, health insurance, and identification. Check Insurance and Strengthen Your Home Now is a good time, before we enter hurricane season, to check with your insurance company and make sure you’re up to date on your policy and the associated procedures. It’s also a great time to catch up on home maintenance: check your roof, gutters, and shutters, manage any debris, trim trees, and make a plan for any exterior furniture or loose items. The more of these tasks you can tackle now, the more time you will have for critical last minute preparations if a storm is incoming. Assemble Disaster Supplies Many of you probably already have an emergency kit and/or a “go bag”. Your emergency kit should include, but is not limited to, the following items: food and water for 5 to 7 days, prescription and non–prescription medications, a radio, batteries, chargers, work gloves and safety equipment, N95 masks, duct tape, and more. For a full list of items to include in your kit, visit Ready.gov Your “go bag” is an extension of your emergency kit and should contain items that would be critical to take with you if you need to evacuate on short notice. This includes identification and important documents, medications, a spare set of clothes and a raincoat, a first aid kit, cash, a multi-purpose tool, spare house and car keys, backup N95 masks, a flashlight, chargers, and a battery powered or hand crank radio. If you have a pet, consider a spare collar and leash, pet food, collapsible bowls for food and water, and any medications your pet may need.  These kits should be specific to your individual needs and the needs of your family, so be sure to give the contents careful thought! Help Your Neighbors Resilient communities benefit from collaboration and cooperation. As you go about your preparedness exercises, check in with your friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Making sure that your community is prepared will help make your family more secure as well! What are your hurricane preparedness tips and tricks? Visit Love City Strong on Facebook and on Instagram (@lovecitystrong, share your experiences, and tag #LoveCityStrong so we can learn from you! 
This week, I am pleased to be attending the 2022 National Hurricane Conference in Orlando. This annual event is focused on hurricane preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Panels are focused on a variety of sectors, including technological developments, communications, forecasting, federal mitigation programs, public-private partnerships, and more. One particularly exciting development this year is the presence of the Territory’s emergency management agency, VITEMA, on several panels. On Monday, Assistant Director Barbara Petersen, Deputy Director for Planning and Preparedness Regina Browne, Deputy Director of Operations Bruce Kelly, and Public Information Officer Erik Ackerson led a panel on local emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their presentation highlighted some of the challenges the Territory faced, as well as the many successes of VITEMA and the VI Department of Health over the last two years. On Tuesday, Assistant Director Petersen and Deputy Director Browne hosted a panel focused on the Territory’s Hazard Mitigation & Resilience Plan. They were joined by Dr Greg Guannel, Director of the Green Caribbean Center at the University of the Virgin Islands. The robust discussion addressed climate change, infrastructure, and the need for systemic solutions to complex problems in the Territory. Wednesday afternoon is dedicated to the NHC General Session. This event will include an appearance by FEMA Administrator Deanna Criswell as well as an Equity in Disasters panel. The Territory’s own Regina Browne is a panelist for the Equity in Disasters session. Along with her, a diverse group of representatives from emergency management organizations and nonprofits will discuss the importance of planning to ensure equity in disaster response. While the VITEMA panels have certainly been relevant to our work at LCS, other opportunities abound. The NHC provides an invaluable chance to network with emergency managers, federal responders, vendors and subject matter experts from across the country. While each disaster is unique, there’s a great deal we can learn from the experiences of other communities, and we hope that our experiences are valuable to them as well. I am thrilled to be back at the National Hurricane Conference this year, and am already looking forward to next year’s meeting in New Orleans.
If you were in the Virgin Islands this morning, you likely got an alert on your phone indicating the start of the 2022 Caribe Wave tsunami drill. The phone alert would have come from FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning Systems (IPAWS), as well as VITEMA’s VI Alerts. This year’s Caribe Wave tsunami drill was based on a scenario in which an 8.0 earthquake struck off the west coast of Puerto Rico, triggering a tsunami that will impact the U.S. Virgin Islands. The goal of the annual drill is to mimic real world response to a disaster of this kind. What is a tsunami? A tsunami is a large wave caused by an underground or undersea disturbance such as an earthquake. They can move at speeds of 30 mph or more, and make landfall with waves reaching anywhere from 10 to 100 feet in height. The entire Caribbean region is considered to have high levels of vulnerability and threat for tsunamis. Since 1842, more than 3,500 people have lost their lives to tsunamis in the Caribbean. Significant population growth and tourism impacts in low-lying coastal areas in recent years only increase the region’s vulnerability. What should you do in the event of an earthquake and tsunami? When you feel an earthquake, you should “Drop, Cover, and Hold” for the duration of the earthquake. When the shaking has passed, proceed according to tsunami evacuation plans. According to VITEMA, this means ascending to a minimum of 82′ above sea level, or greater than 2 miles inland. As an example, the first floor of the Marketplace is located 50 feet above sea level, so the LCS evacuation protocol takes us to the area behind the third floor office suites. It’s a good idea to identify the elevation of your home, office, or school in advance, and then locate the nearest, highest ground as an evacuation point if needed. How can I be more prepared? First, be alert to signs of a tsunami, such as a sudden rise or draining of sea waters. Subscribe to emergency information and alerts in your area, and turn on government alerts on your smart phone. Always follow instructions from local emergency managers. Know and practice community evacuation plans. Map out your routes from home, work, and play. Visit VITEMA’s website to see the tsunami evacuation zones in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and learn your nearest evacuation rally point. Create a family emergency communication plan that has an out-of-territory contact. Plan where you will meet if you get separated. Finally, consider earthquake insurance and a flood insurance policy. Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood or earthquake damage. To learn more about tsunami preparedness and the annual Caribe Wave tsunami drill, visit Tsunamizone.org, and check out the tsunami and earthquake related resources at VITEMA.vi.gov
Housing is one of the most complex parts of recovery after a disaster. After the hurricanes in 2017, HUD estimated that 74% of low and middle income homes on St. John were damaged. Since 2018, Love City Strong has partnered with several other nonprofits, along with St. John-based construction companies and dozens of qualified local professionals to help create the Resilient Housing Initiative (RHI). RHI has rebuilt 36 homes to date. Notably, we have been the sole source of reasonably priced recovery solutions for these homes. Throughout 2020 and 2021, it became clear that recovery challenges were increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global supply logistics, coupled with widespread economic downturns and access to affordable labor hindered a return to safe, accessible homes. In October of 2021, we received a grant through the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, with funding provided by the Island Spirit Fund. Cruzan®Rum, along with Global Giving, established The Island Spirit Fund to support disaster relief. It issues grants to local organizations with boots on the ground and lasting relationships in affected areas. Specifically, this grant was awarded to help with repairs on the hurricane damaged homes of two St. John residents.  This funding came at a critical point. Due to the changing needs of our clients, we worked to expand the impact of the RHI program. In effect, by including smaller scopes of work, we allow for progress across more of the community. Furthermore, St. John is in the midst of a severe affordable housing crisis. As a result, each home repaired and made more accessible relieves pressure on the housing market.  In 2022, we will continue RHI, and take a mitigation based approach. In other words, we will make relatively smaller investments to limit more serious future damages. Qualifying permanent residents include:
  • Seniors
  • Low and middle income families
  • Single parent families
  • Pregnant women
  • Residents with a disability or chronic health conditions. 
Your support is critical to continue this important work. To donate to our ongoing housing recovery efforts, please visit  https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/resilience-and-accessibility-for-st-john-homes/ For more information about how to sponsor an entire repair project, contact: mae@lovecitystrongvi.org
In 2017, a group of volunteers came together that would become Love City Strong. I doubt any of us could imagine that day what the next four years would bring. Certainly pandemics were not on our horizon at that time! Since then, LCS has worked with the public and private sector on projects relating to disaster response, recovery, and resilience. Resilience is a cross-sector exercise, including preparedness, sustainability, and health and wellness. Our projects are designed to increase the Territory’s capacity across all of these sectors. In 2020 and 2021, LCS, like the rest of the world, had to adapt to new realities. Our COVID-19 related projects included:
  • Outreach and education about COVID-19
  • Food security
  • COVID-19 vaccine outreach
  • Logistical support
Notably, these public health projects often overlapped with the familiar rhythms of hurricane season. The past two years have reinforced the importance of an “all hazards” approach to disaster risk management, preparedness, and response. The disasters that affect us are becoming markedly more complex and layered. Therefore, we must be creative in our approach to addressing community needs, both before and after disaster impacts. In 2022 our commitment to preparedness will remain a top priority. However, we will also look toward a resilient future by focusing on mitigation efforts in the community. These efforts aim to reduce harm or damage, particularly from potential future impacts. Throughout the pandemic we have strengthened our ties with nonprofits across the USVI. Equally important, we have built upon strong foundations with our partners in the States. Training and planning exercises in the USVI have become more accessible, consequently increasing engagement among partners. These and other developments allow us to stretch our skills even further in service of the community. We look forward to a year full of fruitful partnership opportunities and ongoing community recovery.
St. John Getaway Raffle for Giving Tuesday, to benefit Love City Strong

As many of you know, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is known as Giving Tuesday – a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.

This year, as part of our Giving Tuesday fundraising efforts, Love City Strong has put together a “St. John Getaway” raffle, which launched on November 1st. The prize package includes accommodations (a week’s stay for 2 at the new Wharfside Village Hotel), discounted rental from Slim Man’s Jeep Rental, lots of activities options, plus over $1000 of gift certificates for dining and shopping.

We’re excited to be able to offer a chance to win this fun and comprehensive vacation package while raising money to support our ongoing disaster preparedness, disaster response, recovery, and mitigation efforts here on St. John and across the USVI. To learn more about the work that we do, please visit our website

The complete prize list includes:

Accomodations: A week stay at Wharfside Village Hotel – King Size room (2 Guests)

Transportation:      Discounted rental from Slim Man’s Jeep Rental

Dining: Morgan’s Mango – $200.00 Gift Certificate 18’64’ The Restaurant – $250.00 Gift Certificate North Shore Deli – $100.00 Gift Certificate St. John Scoops – $50.00 Gift Certificate Kati Ligo – A specialty cheese board and 2 glasses of wine, valued at $60 Trunk Bay Concessions – $100.00 Gift Certificate

Activities: Cabana Day at Lovango Resort & Beach Club Sunset Sail with Big Blue Excursions Half Day Snorkel Sail for 2 aboard Kekoa 2 hr LimeOut Taco Shuttle with Salt Deck

Shopping: Lulee St. John- $100.00 Gift Certificate VirginAbis- $100.00 Gift Certificate The Tap Room “Brewtique”- $75.00 Gift Certificate

The prize drawing will take place on December 1st (the day after Giving Tuesday). Enter today for your chance to win a trip to St. John!
September is National Hurricane Preparedness Month, and this year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Every week in September, we will be sharing information demonstrating how individual and household preparedness can make a difference in your community. This week’s topic is: Low Cost, No Cost Preparedness. Disaster preparedness can feel like a massive burden. By taking the time to prepare all-year round rather than right before a disaster strikes or during the time of year when disasters regularly occur in your community (such as hurricane or wildfire season), you can lessen the impact on your time and your wallet. Beginning in January, do one or two preparedness activities every month. Make a list of everything that your household needs to do, and stick to a regular schedule. This will help make preparedness a regular part of your household’s routine, and alleviate the anxiety and stress surrounding preparedness right before an event. It also allows you to budget preparedness ahead of time. There are numerous actions you can take year-round to prepare that are low or no cost. These include:
  • Set aside at least $10 a week in cash, and put it into an envelope in your emergency kit.
  • Purchase one or two items per month to complete your emergency kit.
  • Make physical or digital copies of your important documents (such as IDs, birth certificates, health records, insurance records, home ownership records, etc.).
  • Make a list of items on porches or outside of your home that need to be brought inside or secured before a disaster, and create a step by step plan to address them.
  • Keep your gutters regularly cleaned and secured.
  • Trim branches and clean up garbage around your property to prevent it from becoming projectiles in a wind-based disaster (such as a hurricane or tropical storm).
  • Contact churches or nonprofits in your area, and ask what preparedness resources they provide both before and after a disaster so that you know where you can go for services.
Talk to your neighbors and loved ones, and share your annual low cost or no cost preparedness plans. If you are part of a faith-based or community organization, get everyone in your group on the same preparedness calendar so that more people are prepared around you. Don’t wait—Start preparing today! For more information, visit www.ready.gov. For up to date, reliable forecasts, visit the National Hurricane Center website. For Virgin Islands specific alerts, watches, and warnings, visit VITEMA’s website, or sign up for AlertVI.
September is National Hurricane Preparedness Month, and this year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Every week in September, we will be sharing information demonstrating how individual and household preparedness can make a difference in your community. This week’s topic is: Build a Kit. An emergency kit should include everything that you and every person in your household needs to survive without electricity, access to essential services, and access to your belongings or home for a minimum of seven days.  Non-perishable food, water, medications, first aid supplies, alternative power sources, and copies of your important personal documents are just a few of the essential components that make up a strong emergency kit. Check out the Love City Strong preparedness shopping list to get started. Every emergency kit is unique. Your kit should feature the basics needed for survival as well as any items that will make you and those living in your household feel safe and comfortable, both during and after a disaster. This could include everything from toys for children, your favorite book, a deck of cards, or a sketchbook or journal. With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting communities around the world, your emergency kit should also include pandemic-essential items to keep your family safe. Extra masks, a digital thermometer, hand sanitizer, and surface cleaning supplies should all be included in your kit.  If you have pets, create a separate emergency kit for them as well. Visit the Humane Society’s pet preparedness guide for everything you need to know about creating a strong kit for your pets. Don’t wait—Start preparing today! For more information on how to build an emergency kit, including downloadable kit lists, videos, and activities to get children involved in the preparation process, visit www.ready.gov/kit For up to date, reliable forecasts, visit the National Hurricane Center website. For Virgin Islands specific alerts, watches, and warnings, visit VITEMA’s website, or sign up for AlertVI.
National Preparedness Month Week 1 : Make a Plan
September is National Hurricane Preparedness Month, and this year’s theme is “Prepare to Protect. Preparing for disasters is protecting everyone you love.” Every week in September, we will be sharing information demonstrating how individual and household preparedness can make a difference in your community. This week’s topic is: Make a Plan. An emergency plan is a detailed, written plan describing what you and the members of your household will do in the event of an emergency, where you’ll go if you cannot shelter in place or if your home becomes compromised, and establishes a method of communication with your loved ones. The act of writing an emergency plan down and talking through it out loud with the members of your household can give your loved ones a greater sense of control, and can help manage any fear and anxiety they may have about potential disasters. After finalizing your sheltering and backup sheltering plan with your household, inform your neighbors and loved ones who live in the same community about your plan. This saves valuable time for first responders who are checking on people after a disaster, and gives your local loved ones peace of mind that you will be safe. Call your loved ones outside of your community, and let them know what your emergency plan is. Appoint one person who lives outside of your community to be your post-disaster Point of Contact (POC).  Give your POC a list of all of your other loved ones who live outside of your community, and their phone numbers. Put your POC in charge of calling everyone on the list to let them know that you are safe after a disaster. That way, you only need to make one phone call to your POC after a disaster. This will save time, resources, and cellphone battery if there is prolonged power loss or damage to communication services. Having an emergency plan is critical to ensuring that your family is more prepared for potential disasters. The more prepared that your household is, the less reliant on post-disaster services you will be. Your time and energy can be spent helping others once your post-disaster circumstances have stabilized.  Don’t wait—Start preparing today! For more information on how to create a written emergency plan, including downloadable plan templates, videos, and activities to get children involved in the preparation process, visit www.ready.gov/plan. For up to date, reliable forecasts, visit the National Hurricane Center website. For Virgin Islands specific alerts, watches, and warnings, visit VITEMA’s website, or sign up for AlertVI.
On Monday August 23, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.  According to their press release: “ ‘The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,’ said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D.” Pfizer’s vaccine is fully approved for people ages 16 and older. For those who are ages 12 to 15, and for those who are immunocompromised and may need a booster shot, the vaccine is still available under the FDA’s emergency use authorization (EUA). Pfizer and BioNTech applied for full approval of their vaccine in May 2021. The process of final approval requires an analysis of the drug’s benefits, its risks, and six months worth of peer reviewed data from the manufacturer’s clinical trials (in this case, over 40,000 individuals around the world). Much of this process was already done as a prerequisite when the FDA authorized the vaccine’s emergency use. Due to the urgent health risks to individuals caused by the pandemic, the full approval process then fell into what the FDA refers to as a “Priority Review.” The typical length of time for products falling under Priority Review is six months. With much of the data analysis done on the front end, the full approval process took four months. The FDA’s announcement comes as the COVID-19 Delta Variant continues to spread across the globe. Many communities are hitting record high numbers for infection rates and hospitalizations, including the Virgin Islands. The vaccine remains the most effective way for individuals to protect themselves and others against the ill-effects of COVID-19. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the VI Department of Health’s resource page; the CDC’s Vaccine FAQ page, and the Johns Hopkins guide for fully vaccinated individuals You can also check out our vaccine Q&A with Sandy Colasacco, a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and the Clinical Executive Director of Island Health and Wellness.