serious about disaster preparedness
you know what to do in the event of a natural disaster?
According to the UWI/ ANSA McAl Psychological Research Centre
Poll reported in the Sunday Guardian, theres a good
chance that roughly just one in ten people can answer that
question with any authority in T&T.
While roughly half of the respondents to the poll claimed
to be ready for the hurricane season, their responses were
based on a personal plan, which includes basic supplies
to cover a loss of power and basic utilities.
Responding to the question of whether the country was ready
for the full impact of a hurricane, 88 per cent of respondents
believed that the nation was not ready at all.
So while it appears that the Office of Disaster Preparedness
and Management (ODPM) has done a fair job of advising the
public on what to buy and to do in preparing their homes
for the unwelcome prospect of natural disaster, it has faltered
in articulating a national plan for responding to the possibility
of natural disaster in T&T.
Indeed, the ODPM hasnt even bothered to update the
website it inherited from the National Emergency Management
Agency, the agency formerly responsible for disaster preparedness
and emergency response to natural calamity.
The plans and disaster guides of the prior agency remain
the default for the ODPMs operations, suggesting the
unwelcome possibility that under the ODPM, disaster planning
remains business as usual.
That perception cant be good news for the executive
of the ODPM, who were constituted in the 2005-2006 budget
to be a properly-funded replacement for the largely volunteer-driven
To match its new responsibilities for planning for national
disaster, the ODPM received an increase in its operating
budget from NEMAs anaemic $10,000 to $15 million,
with a mandate to become the go-to agency for co-ordinating
the countrys response to national disasters.
Now the ODPM may be doing more than NEMA was ever able to,
but the childish Community Emergency Plan offered on its
Web site under a NEMA logo and the blanketing of the media
with colloquial warnings to buy flashlights and nail down
roofs cant be the sum of it.
As T&T entered the hurricane season, clear information
about where people in each community should gather for shelter
during disaster warnings, how supplies might be accessed
within a community should people be cut off from regular
roads or access should have been widely-distributed to every
citizen of the country, with special emphasis on areas of
repeated vulnerability and those served by roads that historically
have weathered heavy rainfall poorly.
Instead, we have invented characters played by actors and
cartoons available for download instead of a clear, adult
plan that intelligent people can follow, step by step, if
a landslide blocks their only road or their homes are flooded.
At a Health Sector Table Top Disaster Simulation Exercise
on July 23, 2005, participants were appalled at the state
of national unreadiness for a natural disaster.
Should such a simulation be run again, would this country
have improved its capacity to respond to a natural disaster?
It would be nice to believe that, but the response of the
general public in the poll suggests that the ODPM must step
up to its mandate to plan and articulate information to
the public. Citizens of T&T must understand their role
and responsibilities in a natural disaster and how they
can work with properly-designated authorities to minimise
the aftermath of natures whimsy.
The overwhelming sense that prevails in the documents and
public presence of the ODPM is one that appears to bank
on the best case scenario, one of preparing but not really
expecting problems to arise.
Its an unwelcome result of a national predilection
for believing that a supreme deity lives among us and will
continue to shelter us from harm. But as every major religion
advises, the rewards of faith follow those who act.