I have just returned from a marathonic, but quite rewarding yet brief three-day visit [June 1-3, 2011] to Playa del Carmen, a resort town some 60 kilometers south of Cancun in the midst of the Mayan Riviera in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.
My trip to Playa del Carmen was at the invitation of the President of the Municipio de Solidaridad [equivalent to our County Mayor here in Florida] to be the keynote speaker at the ceremony of Installation of the Operational Committee in Case of Hurricanes for 2011 for the ‘municipio’[a political subdivision of the state equivalent to our county or parish] of Solidaridad. The city of Playa del Carmen is the seat of the municipio.
The installation of the Operational Committee is a key component of Civil Protection activities that take place annually throughout the political subdivisions of the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. The ceremony of installation of the Committee is done jointly with the official adoption of the annual Civil Defense Plan, and carries in addition to the pomp and circumstance the swearing-in of committee members by the MunicipaL President, and the signing of the ordinance that gives the Committee and the Plan their legal authority to carry out their charge of protecting life and property in the Municipio de Solidaridad.The ceremony was presided by the Municipal Secretary General, in representation of the Municipal President, with the Municipal Regents[equivalent to a Board of County Commissioners], a representative of the State Governor, representatives of the armed forces, public and private sector dignataries, and the new members of the Operational Committee in attendance as well as the general public including school children and the media. All in all some 600+ guests participated in the ceremony.
The state of Quintana Roo in Mexico has developed an effective emergency management [Civil Defense] structure over the years, with an excellent record of timely evacuations and preparedness during several hurricane strikes on important tourism resorts and population centers including such memorable storms as Gilbert , Wilma  and category 5 Dean . Loss of life and injury have been kept to a minimum during these hazard events. A testimony to the seriousness with which the State and Municipal governments, and the population at-large, treat the issue of hurricane risk and civil defense actions is the formal ceremony to install the Operational Committee and approve the Civil Defense Plan for the year. This ceremony not only includes the enactment of a municipal resolution installing and swearing in the committee and the formal adoption of the annual Civil Defense Plan, but it is also intended to send a message to all residents of this vulnerable community that the protection of life and property in case of hurricane impact involves the collective effort of all sectors of society, with support from local and state authorities.
The ceremony included opening remarks by Municipal Civil Defense Director Eng. Genaro Alamilla Can who gave an overview of the emergency management structure, explained the significance of Operational Committee as a key component of Civil Defense especially during the hurricane season.
When inviting me to deliver the keynote address at this event the Municipal President specifically asked me to talk about hurricane protection, drawing on my field work, research and educational efforts in thestate of Quintana Roo going back to 1988 in the aftermath oh major hurricane Gilbert that devastated Cancun. I titled my address “Sol, Aire y Agua” [or “Sun, Air and Water”] to reinforce my message that we need to use a simplified approach to emergency management by focusing of that which is critical, such as wind and water as essential components of hurricanes and also the main causes of damage during an impact. In my remarks I encouraged the existing civil defense structure to fill in existing gaps, by inviting and involving a sector that has been largely absent, that of the building design and construction profesionals [meaning architectsand engineers]. I also emphasized the need to change/enhance the traditional model for emergency management on which their current civil defense structure is based, by making mitigation the central “hub” anchoring the traditional phases of preparedness, response and recovery. Other key concepts I presented were: (a) the importance of considering vulnerability as an interactiveand dynamic process that is shared by all in the community; (b) the need to understand how buildings, housing and infrastructre interact with wind and water, the main damage components of a hurricane; (c) how hurricane protectionin order to be effective must involve the collective efforts of each and all the residents in a vulnerable community; (d) there is a need to create a state-wide support infrastructure involving sientific research, building product testing and approval and mechanisms to incoprorate hurricane mitigation criteria into the design of all new builsings and housing or the retrofit of existing ones, and (e) how educationof all sectors of society mut be a keystone component of all civil defense efforts moving forward. [You may view a summarized version of the PoerPoint presentation used to illustrate my comments by clicking on the link that follows: AIRE & AGUA2aa]