By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE Pathfinders Task Force continues to keep giving, donating some $30,000 worth of roofing material to the National Emergency Management Agency’s warehouse in Grand Bahama on Friday.
The donation brings its overall contribution to nearly $300,000 here on the island since Hurricane Matthew hit last October.
Scott Lewis, task force leader of Pathfinders Task Force, said the organisation has already donated $250,000 of relief and building supplies to Grand Bahama since the storm.
“It is a blessing to be able to help… and The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints is one of our great partners, along with other non-profit organisations,” Mr Lewis said.
Minister for Grand Bahama Dr Michael Darville was on hand for the donation and commended PTF and the Church of Latter Day Saints for their support in continuing to provide building items to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for distribution to residents.
Mr Lewis said that it is important to them that the donations from the US reach those who really need get it.
The Pathfinders Taskforce has a long history of coming to the Bahamas and providing hurricane relief to residents in affected areas.
“This is our 18th year,” said Mr Lewis said, who has been coming to assist since Hurricane Floyd.
“I am second generation from coming over to The Bahamas. We are in West Palm, and our first operation was Hurricane Floyd,” he recalled.
Mr Lewis, through PTF, has brought relief to the island following Hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, Wilma, and last year to the Southern Bahamas following Hurricane Joaquin.
PTF has been involved in response efforts for the largest man-made and natural disasters in recent history. Having been first responders in Haiti and Japan following their massive earthquakes, and having spent 189 days in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Oil Spill of 2010, the group has gained an incredible amount of experience and proven to be a best practice for emergency management situational awareness and efficiency in disaster response.
Mr Lewis said the organisation has become “sort of a trusted agent” for US organisations to donate, like the Church of Latter Day Saints, and to ensure that donations get to the right people that really need it.
He indicated that NEMA has been a “terrific help” to them in getting relief items to persons in the Bahamas.
The first couple of days after Matthew, PTF brought in relief supplies, which was initially food items, and then later transition to roofing material.
Prior to Hurricane Matthew, the PTF team was in New Providence and was the first team on the ground in Freeport and Andros after the storm with planes of supplies.
Mr Lewis said that PTF was able to use a GIS mapping system they invented to work on cell phones to document and identify the most devastated areas.
“With BNGIS, we used a system that we invented based on our work with Floyd and it works on cell phones with no cell tower and no internet. It maps and tracks everything you do, and if you take photos it geotags and time dates exactly where you took the photos.
“When Matthew came to New Providence we used the system for rescues when there was high water and still tropical storm winds. Our folks went on the buses with the defence force and NEMA personnel, and medics, going out into the lower side and south side of New Providence, and you were able to see people moving on the buses - it documents everything you do.”
Although it is used mainly for accountability, Mr Lewis said that it was also very beneficial when they were in the airplane flying over Andros after the passage of Matthew.
“When we first flew over Andros the system would track you in the airplane, and the government was able to see what the damage was before they were able to go in. It worked in Joaquin last year when I think we were seven or eight days without cellphone and internet. The British government worked with us then, and the US government this time (with Matthew).
“It has been a greater cooperative effort working under NEMA and Captain Stephen Russell. And BNGIS with Carol Albury are working with us in trying to adopt the GIS mapping system in the whole country.
Lance Brown, branch president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said they try to do their best to assist where needed in times of disaster.
“We do assessments and evaluations to see who we can help. PTF helps us as the middle man and as we get the supplies they help us out with knowing where the greater needs are and where we should focus our efforts,” he explained.
Tammy Mitchell, NEMA warehouse manager, thanked PFT for their donation. She said that the items will be distributed to persons with minor damage who are still trying to complete repairs to their homes.
“We are finding that some persons are getting lost into the cracks, and we want to assist those persons as best we can with what has been donated today,” she said.
Ms Mitchell said the western district is being assisted with supplies donated by the Miami Dolphins organisation, and other groups which have been giving supplies, such as Rotary Club and others. She said that private donors have also been assisting in other areas as well.