International Emergency Preparedness: An Un-Belize-able Experience

Greetings from Belize!

Meet SORT member Caroline Quinn who is completing her practicum in Belize with another SORT accomplice, Emily Szwiec.

Meet SORT member Caroline Quinn who is completing her practicum in Belize with another SORT accomplice, Emily Szwiec.

My name is Caroline Quinn and I am spending my practicum here in Belmopan, the capital of Belize, working with the Ministry of Health through the CDC’s International Emergency Preparedness Team (IEPT). IEPT is part of the CDC’s Global Health Security agenda. Currently, only about 16% of the world is prepared for a disaster. By working with various countries all over the world, the IEPT is hoping to raise that percentage.

Last summer, SORT alumna Dasha Klebaner spent her practicum developing the Belize Ministry of Health’s first all-hazards plan, meaning a plan that can be adapted to any type of disaster. This summer, fellow SORT member Emily Szwiec and I are tailoring the all-hazards plan to each of the six different districts in Belize. Because different districts have different potential hazards, different staff, and different resources, they each need a plan that works for them. For instance, one district is more at risk for hurricane damage while another is more prone to outbreaks of vector-borne disease. In order to do this, we’ve had the chance to travel to four cities so far and work with health services staff in each to develop their plan. So far we’ve been to the San Ignacio in the west near Guatemala, Belize City on the Caribbean coastline, Corozal in the north of the country near Mexico, and Punta Gorda at the southern-most point of the country. Belize has a tiny population (about 350,000) but is a mix of many different cultures (Caribbean, Latin, Mayan, American, British, etc.) so it has been great to get to see all the different sides of the country.

We have also worked with the main public hospitals in each district on their Hospital Safety Improvement plans, based on guidelines from PAHO. To be able to function before, during, and after a disaster, for example, some hospitals needed to install fire alarms and fire extinguishers while others needed to move their generator so it would not be underwater in a hurricane.

Last week we also had the chance to help members of the IEPT facilitate a country-wide Incident Command System training with 36 individuals from the six different districts. Hopefully, if each district knows their role in a disaster and how to communicate with one another, everyone will be able to work together in a disaster.

Working with Belize City on their all hazards plan

Working with Belize City on their all hazards plan

It’s been amazing to get to work inside a foreign ministry of health, meet all the public health staff in the different districts, and learn more about disaster preparedness. On the weekends, we’ve also had the chance to explore Belize, from hiking Mayan ruins to snorkeling with sharks and rays to trying (key word here) to learn some Kriol to making traditional Mayan chocolate drinks.

My favorite adventure so far was seeing crocodiles up close on the boat ride to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai (which actually means “submerged crocodile”).

Emily and I at Cahal Pech Ruins

Emily and I at Cahal Pech Ruins

Caving in Actun Tunichil Muchnal to see the thousand-year-old skeletons that first confirmed the practice of Mayan human sacrifice was pretty amazing too. You could say it was un-Belize-able.

*SORT Leadership would like to thank Caroline for penning an awesome account of her summer experience! Thank you so very much!

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