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Frustrated by flooding ‘management’

Monday, October 23, 2017

The International Day for Disaster Reduction was started in 1989, after a call by the United Nations General Assembly for a day to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction. Held every October 13, the day celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of reining in the risks that they face.

The 2017 campaign sought to raise global awareness about effective actions, policies and practices taken to reduce exposure to disaster risk at the community level, thereby contributing to saving homes and livelihoods. This is a considerable challenge that can be accomplished only through co-ordination, co-operation and collaboration among many stakeholders.

Last year saw the launch of the “Sendai Seven” campaign by UNISDR, centred on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework, the first of which is reducing disaster mortality. The campaign seeks to create a wave of awareness about actions taken to reduce mortality around the world. The “Sendai Seven Campaign” is an opportunity for all, including Governments, Local Governments, community groups, civil society organisations, the private sector, international organisations and the UN family, to promote best practices at the international, regional, and national level across all sectors to reduce disaster risk and disaster losses.

This year’s target is focused on prevention, protection and reducing the number of people affected by disasters.

Over the past few months, for some unexplained reason, we have not been made aware of these key interventions and requirements that express and espouse our country’s commitment to disaster risk reduction. As a UN and a CARICOM member state, Trinidad and Tobago has from 2015, with the formation of the ODPM, been tasked with propagating Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) that encompasses all priorities and targets that have been identified for Disaster Risk Reduction, globally, regionally and nationally. Unfortunately, the level of awareness that was required on October 13, 2017 was sorely deficient and may be a significant factor in the return of this country’s overall poor opinion and perspective of the ODPM that has once again crept in our opinion polls.

In 2011, as newly appointed CEO of the ODPM, I had the privilege of appearing before a Joint Select committee of Parliament and during a few grueling hours I was able to set out a pathway for improving the country’s dim view of the ODPM and its roles and responsibilities by improving the management of the ODPM.

From 2011 to 2017 I was able to develop the strategic plan of ODPM, and table a number of draft national plans that ranged from a Comprehensive Disaster Management Plan and associated legislative suggestions, to National Draft plans for Evacuations, Shelter Management, Post-Disaster Debris Management, Earthquake Contingency Plans, Drought Plans, National Flood Contingency Plans, Animal and Pet Shelter Plans, Crowd Management Plan, and worked with other agencies to develop draft policies and position statements such as National ISO Standards for Emergency Management, Oil Spill Contingency Plan, National Business Continuity Management Plan, Critical Infrastructure Protection & Management Plan, Chemical Disaster Plan, National Response Framework, National Incident Management Plan, Terrorism Plan, National Alert Policy, National Building Code and many others.

The strategy was that all stakeholders would become engaged over the period 2017-2020 in keeping with Government’s Strategy and by then, we would have had a robust platform for disaster risk management with the timely introduction of appropriate legislation that would incorporate all global and regional strategies such as the “Sendai Strategy’, the “Climate Change – Paris Agreement”, the “Sustainable Development Goals”, the “CDEMA CDM Strategy” and the “Istanbul Humanitarian Action Agreement”.

We learnt painfully over the last few days of nationwide flooding, that systems and mechanisms which were developed during my stint at ODPM may have become weak over the last few months following my departure, because for some reason, the basic communication grids that were created with established print and electronic media, social media, amateur radio associations such as REACT and TTARL, and the early warning systems that included early warning points, hotlines and 911/999/990 systems from police, fire and in Tobago 211 and TEMA etc, were somehow not utilised or co-ordinated by the ODPM.

I noted during the final few months of my departure, that the basic science of statistics and mathematics and evidence based analysis, that I learnt over the years was not accepted and that a disaster incident “clearing house” monitored 24/7 in real-time by ODPM and not 8 am -4 pm, was discarded. The 511 system was removed from its proper place and embedded in a 911 dispatch call centre.

A customer care, comprehensive disaster incident database that fell under the purview of the National Authority for Disaster Management, the ODPM, was now distributed over 25 hotlines and numbers of all key responding agencies, first and second line responders once again. This is a recipe for chaos and it was seen during the management of Bret and may have caused the ODPM to lose sight of the extent of the incidents as they unfolded over the past few days.

All that I promised to improve at the Joint Select Hearing in 2011 is possibly becoming diluted and once again ODPM is being battered and ridiculed by a large number of people for their perceived lack of action and failure to educate and inform using all the available tools, even low cost ones, in a timely manner.

I hope that the ODPM will be given the appropriate resources to do their job appropriately and I stand ready to assist at any time.

Dr Stephen Ramroop is a past CEO of the ODPM


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