The Department of Emergency Management (DEM) has undergone many transformations during
its life. Its beginnings date back to the 1940s when the Organisation for Hurricane Relief was
The general direction and authority of the Organisation was vested in his Excellency the Governor, members of the Executive Committee, the Financial Secretary, a Legal Draughtsman and the Controller of Food Supplies and Prices. The headquarters of this Organisation was at Government House.
The Central Relief Organisation, which served as the coordinating agency, comprised "Liaison Staff" and had its headquarters at the Department of Agriculture. It comprised an Intelligence Officer, Assistant Colonial Secretaries who served as Mobile Intelligence Officers and Public Relations Officer, the Government Electrical Inspector who was in charge of emergency electric power and wireless communications and the Island Commissioner for the Boys Scouts who formed the messenger service.
For relief purposes, the parishes were divided into districts and persons appointed annually by the vestries were in charge. This set up formed the Parochial Relief Organisation.
In contrast to the Department of Emergency Management, this Organisation was never fully aware of the need for a plan for disaster preparedness, although the public was informed of an impending hurricane in the form of public warning which were arranged according to the standard hurricane categories of Advisory, Cautionary Warning and the onset of a hurricane. These procedures were specifically designed to facilitate the action of members of the Organisation, rather than giving the public a thorough briefing of impending disaster. The Organisation was more concerned with relief after the disaster. As such, all of its actions were geared towards returning things to normal after the event, rather than with lessening the impact.
Although this was a major short coming in the context of today's operations, it nevertheless seemed to have functioned with some efficiency in 1955, as the losses and suffering during hurricane Janet were lessened to a considerable degree, owing to its actions.
In 1978 the organization was renamed the Central Emergency Relief Secretariat which provided administrative support and coordination to the wider disaster management system in Barbados.
Over the years, the Organisation was required to expand the scope of its responsibility to respond to other emergencies such as flooding and landslides, as well as man-made disasters such as oil spills, industrial fires, aircraft crashes and large scale public service vehicle accidents.