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Visitor industry gauges disaster preparedness

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by Krystal Paco

Guam - They may be playing pretend, but they're preparing for the real thing. At today's Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association 2013 Table Top Exercise, representatives from the tourism industry test their preparedness levels and recovery plans in the event of a natural disaster or an emergency situation.

It's a pretend scenario: it's Friday, December 6. The entire island is without power. The airport will be closed for at least a week and there are over three thousand tourists who were not evacuated and are being sheltered in their hotels. This is the aftermath of a Category 5 supertyphoon that hit the island late Wednesday evening.

What do you do?

GHRA president Mary Rhodes says today's table top exercise puts focus on the tourism industry with 12 of the island's hotels represented from general management to security, engineers to communications specialists, they're all learning how to respond.

"When it comes to disaster, whether it's a small incident or a large one, we do have to work with our government partners and the public/private sector partnership is really key because the hotels have so many infrastructures resources such as their own food, water supplies, and so those are things we have to manage well and we have to plan during a disaster but also during a recovery which is actually even more important because tourism is our lifeblood."

And with recent events from the Typhoon Francisco scare, to the Hilton explosion, and even the North Korean threat to the island, Guam Homeland Security advisor Ambrosio Constantino says keeping communication lines open will always be a struggle in emergency situations.

"One of the things I learned for example two years ago was the Hapan tsunami earthquake," he said. "We all know, communications went down but what's one the means of communication we could continue to communicate? Texting. We know texting will get through but it was hard to get through regular telephone so that's one of the gaps is what I'm saying."

To improve communications locally, the joint information center at the Office of Homeland Securtity was launched. In the event of any threat to the island, JIC serves as a centralized organization to release accurate and timely information to residents and the media, providing a central source for all instructions.

And while we improve on our shortfalls, Constantino says Guam's strength is the people's willingness to help our neighbors. "I see a community that just wants to help each other. And that's strength and I just want to expand on that strength," he added.

Also participating in today's training, the Guam Police Department, the Guam Fire Department, and the Coast Guard. 

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