Cuban officials travel to Galveston for conference

GALVESTON These are conferences that occur at least once a year in Havana and in Galveston. It is a sharing of ideas and concepts. Both Galveston and Havana share a view of the Gulf of Mexico and can both be in the direct path of a hurricane when they come barreling down the Gulf.

There are some aspects of Cuba's hurricane preparedness that are of interest to local officials.

When we traveled to Cuba last year, we couldn't help but notice there are vast differences between how we live and the Cuban lifestyle and political structure. Yet the similarities are all too relative when it comes to hurricane preparedness. The Cuban system of hurricane notification and evacuation, say Cuban officials, has resulted in less than half a dozen deaths in the past 15 years.

We first met Dr. Guillermo Ridel last year when we traveled with then-Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas for a conference in hurricane preparedness. Dr. Ridel is director of the Latin-American Center for Medicine for Disasters.

The Cuban government would not grant interviews or allow us inside. However, Dr. Ridel today was free to speak about what the believes Galveston can learn from Cuba.

"What I think Galveston could learn how to be with the community, I think it's important to work with the human resource... to help reduce the mortality," Dr. Ridel explained.

Cuban hurricane evacuation is mandatory and involves the army to mobilize citizens and secure property. Unheard of here, yet local elected officials recently returned from Cuba to attend this year's conference and say the Cuban system has some positive aspects.

Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos said, "What they offered us when we went over there is how they streamlined and map their people out and count their people, almost by the head, where they are."

Gallegos also is the chairman of the state's hurricane preparedness committee.

Meanwhile, some ideas taken from the conference can be taken and applied locally. The city of Galveston already has a voluntary registry for citizens so when it does come time for an evacuation, they can know where the residents are and what kind of special needs they require.

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