Our future is in our hands
What we decide to do will result in whether it takes a few weeks’ time, a few months’ time, or a year from now to recover.
This is why it is so important to follow the advice and legal provisions introduced by the government, which makes scientific-based decisions to protect us.
Now that we are into the second week of the State of Emergency, we are beginning to see the effects on our daily lives.
This was expected, as the government continues in its efforts to mitigate any escalation of the situation, conscious of the large number of deaths that have occurred in Spain and other western European countries.
With everyone’s cooperation, our efforts will succeed, and we will come through this stronger than we were before.
We need to keep calm, follow the government’s advice, keep to the facts and avoid speculation.
Throughout the coronavirus outbreak, Safe Communities Portugal (SCP) has continued its close contact with the central government and, in particular, the Ministry of Internal of Administration and ANPC (civil protection authority), with several proposals made on behalf of the foreign community. We liaise with the British Embassy, especially Clive Jewell, the British Vice Consul in Portimão, on a daily basis.
As we are now in the Easter holiday period, it is particularly important that the message “stay at home unless your journey is essential” is followed. If this is not followed, it is very likely that we will see more stringent measures introduced to help keep communities safe.
Every person who stays at home contributes to reducing the spread of the virus.
On Friday, the National Operational Commander ANPC Brigadier General Duarte da Costa (who incidentally follows the Safe Communities Facebook page) made a broadcast in English to the foreign community, outlining very clearly that message.
Portuguese authorities are activating all relevant systems to achieve the best possible answer to this situation, including a strong cooperation with the embassies in Lisbon.
How SCP has prepared for this crisis
Although, of course, we never know when the next crisis may occur, Safe Communities Portugal has been preparing extremely diligently for such an event and that it may have to provide a supporting role, ever since the major catastrophic fires and ensuing emergency just two years ago.
SCP played an important role in that crisis, supporting the expatriate community and foreign tourists, and working closely with governmental agencies such as the police services and ANPC (as it was then), but we were aware that we would need to build more capacity and sustainability to meet the next crisis.
We have, therefore, increased the size and breadth of our capability considerably, decision-making, technology and the agility of the association. We have highly experienced expatriates willing to volunteer across a range of much-needed areas of expertise: in high-level crisis management; security and safety; higher-level fire management; law; finance and diplomacy, to mention a few.
We have also built a team that is capable of meeting a large-scale crisis just like the one we face now, although we will need to add more volunteers for our sustainability if this crisis is prolonged as it appears to be. Our team covering coronavirus comprises Chris Stretton, Elise Slotte, David Marion and myself, with Lília Martins and others providing support.
We have also trained to become a statutory civil protection volunteer organisation – the only non-Portuguese association to achieve this status.
We have built up trust between our association and key decision-makers across government and the police, civil protection and safety organisations through the many conferences and inter-agency platforms that we have hosted between host-nation agencies and the expatriate community.
We have undertaken many crisis management and emergency exercises with the Portuguese government authorities. We have positioned our association in a space not occupied by any other ‘official’ organisation or agency – in a space where we know that we are needed by expatriates and national organisations, and government, too – as well as our overworked (in an emergency) embassies.
We are a trusted source of facts, especially for our expats and only deal in facts and the reporting of official information.
Going forward, SCP will clearly learn more lessons and have two major crises to look back on as we develop for the next one. We will most likely need to expand further to build on sustainability and expertise, so I hope that this article may spur some into volunteering with us.
Getting further information and help
With the coronavirus, Safe Communities Portugal is trying its best to get key official messages out to the foreign community as quickly as possible, so I thank everyone for following our Facebook page and website (www.safecommunitiesportugal.com).
By referring to this, you will see daily local and overseas situation reports, the key messages of civil protection and DGS (general-directorate of health) and, in particular, our ‘frequently asked questions’ and ‘how to get further information and help’ pages. These are very comprehensive and are frequently visited.
We are aware that many people have suffered not just from the virus itself, but also financially through being laid off work, as well as businesses that have been affected. We have received many enquiries about this and to help those who may have been affected, we have made informal translations in English in ‘question and answer’ form on our website.
Lastly, we are looking for volunteers who have experience in either analysis or research-type work, who are used to valuing news and facts, to supplement our team during this period of crisis.
If you feel you are able to help the community, please email me at [email protected], with a brief description of your experience.
By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2011, he founded Safe Communities Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal.
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