ST THOMAS, USVI -- Director Elton Lewis updated the US Virgin Islands Legislature’s Finance Committee on Thursday on the evolving functions and goals of the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency before summarizing VITEMA’S 2013 accomplishments and initiatives for the coming year.
Lewis requested a fiscal year 2014 appropriation that provides “the minimum acceptable funding level to support the agency’s ability to fulfill its emergency management mission” of coordinating the effective response to, and recovery from, all hazards and threats that may impact the US Virgin Islands.
VITEMA meets that mission by ensuring citizens, first responders, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and emergency managers work together to build and sustain the territory’s capability to prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate all natural and manmade hazards.
Lewis proposed a total budget of $11,147,191, comprised of $4.3 million from the General Fund, $4.6 million from federal grants, $1.59 million from the Miscellaneous Fund, and $600,000 from the Emergency Services Fund for E911 Communications Center operations, which is funded by a $1 surcharge on communications lines.
Of the federal funding, $3 million is considered “pass through” capital outlays for expected Repetitive Flood Mitigation projects, Lewis said, leaving VITEMA’s actual operating budget at $ 5,952,191 for the coming year.
That budget will fund 81 positions -- 65 by the General Fund, consisting of 43 9-1-1 operators; and 16 from federal grants.
VITEMA operates offices across the territory, including the 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center and Emergency Operations Centers which activate for the imminent threat of disaster and for no-notice incidents.
“We provide clear direction, coordination and support to all agencies involved in the preparedness and response readiness of the entire Territory. This includes the efficient distribution of federal assets made available for training personnel in all aspects of Emergency Management and Homeland Security,” Lewis said.
VITEMA’s primary role as a coordinating agency is to assist in reducing the vulnerability of Virgin Islands people and communities to damage, injury and loss of life and property resulting from natural or man-made catastrophes.
Lewis described the current year as “one of many daunting human resource and fiscal challenges but also one of significant achievements not just for VITEMA but for the territory.”
VITEMA focused much of the year on executing its strategic plans and initiatives, on working progressively to build a more efficient and effective grants management program and on honing emergency response and management skills through vital training and exercises, Lewis said.
“We broadened our perspective this year, fully-adopting a whole community approach to preparedness for natural and manmade disaster. Our outreach efforts reached deep into housing communities, civic organizations, government entities and schools across the territory,” according to the agency’s director.
One of the main priorities and objectives in 2013 was boosting the territory’s Tsunami Readiness Program by identifying and preparing at-risk communities as well as creating a redundant and viable public warning system.
“I’m pleased to announce, this year VITEMA were successful in jump-starting this Tsunami Readiness Program,” Lewis said.
The agency also met its mandate to prepare US Virgin Islands citizens for all hazards through presentations at housing communities, rotary organizations and at several public and private schools.
Through the Grants Management Division, VITEMA addressed findings in both a US Department of Homeland Security audit as well as a FEMA assessment that cited deficient monitoring of projects and delays in payments of claims and in drawing down federal funds.
During this fiscal year, VITEMA was able to utilize a Department of Homeland Security communications grant to support the US Virgin Islands Police Department. In May, Lewis presented Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard with 108 new handheld radios with chargers, a package totaling $100,924. The new radios support the department’s goal of upgrading its communications apparatus and ensuring all officers have the tools they need to keep the community safe.
“We were aware of VIPD’s need and this was an innovative way to support our first responders,” Lewis said.
In 2011, VITEMA relocated its St Croix staff and Emergency Operations Center after its Hermon Hill facility was deemed uninhabitable due to a mold infestation. The Center now operates out of a temporary location at King Cross Street in Christiansted.
Lewis says his goal is to renovate the Hermon Hill facility to meet the Agency’s needs. He recently met with federal officials to discuss support for the rehabilitation project.
Lewis said he would ultimately like that facility to also house the 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center, significantly decreasing the cost of lease space for St Croix operations on St Croix. He asked lawmakers to support that endeavor.