The signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) is a significant step to make St. Maarten more calamity-resilient (see related story). It comes ahead of the fast-approaching August-to-October usual peak of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Recent experience has taught that effective coordination of early relief can be an issue especially in the event of a breakdown in communication. Effective direction from a distance based on established protocols can be crucial in those conditions.

Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin on behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands signed the agreement that aims to further embed the Dutch Royal Navy and other assets in the regional mechanism. That is done also by playing an active role in the new Multinational Civil-Military Coordination Cell on Barbados.

Of course, this is all in addition to the already-existing practice of assisting each other within the Dutch Caribbean and the kingdom when humanitarian crises occur. Prime concern and immediate efforts to help may still be expected mostly from the Netherlands, Curaçao and Aruba.

However, being part of a larger body can have many advantages in terms of logistics, proximity of available resources and the fast-response ability when time could be of the essence and perhaps even a matter of life and death. The mere extra regional attention this brings might prove beneficial when it really counts.

One related issue on which there needs to be clarity is how to approach mass looting like what was widely seen during and after the passage of Hurricane Irma. If the military is to support law enforcement in keeping order to protect life and property under those extreme circumstances, they must have prior written authority to use violence and – if necessary – their weapons against civilians.

It cannot be so that uniformed troops on the ground are ignored or even intimidated by people committing crimes because of uncertainty over exactly what they are expected and/or allowed to do about it. Building back stronger means that if – God forbid – another catastrophic storm ever hits, the country will be better prepared in every sense.