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Breakdown in communication
Although 11 out of 14 regional corporations were adversely affected by severe flooding in the last three days, deputy CEO of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management Dave Williams does not see this as a “big thing” and has put their poor response down to a breakdown in communication between the emergency agencies.
Williams also took responsibility for the lack of coordination among response agencies, which led to a delay in reaching flood-affected communities and motorists who remained trapped for over five hours in rising waters on the north and south-bound lanes of the Solomon Hochoy Highway after heavy showers.
On Thursday and up to yesterday, several areas in Trinidad remained under water as the rains showed no signs of letting up.
At a press conference yesterday, Williams admitted the ODPM’s response agencies had failed to reach out to people affected by the floods.
He said the ODPM, which is responsible for coordination of national resources before, during and after the impact of a catastrophic event, met yesterday with agencies of the national disaster response mechanism—Fire Service, Defence Force, Police Service, T&T Red Cross Society and Ministries of Local Rural Development and Local Government and Works and Transport - to examine how they can improve on communication with the public.
“What we experienced was that the communications did not happen the way we would have liked. And therefore the response agencies were becoming aware of the problems that members of the public were experiencing with flood waters after the waters had built up ... after people were caught in traffic on the highways.”
He said agencies “could not talk to each other at the time it should have, leading to people suffering from the absence of information.”
Asked if this was acceptable, Williams said sometimes the most perfect channel of communication breaks down.
“Is it unacceptable? I would say it is unfortunate that when you tried to call somebody (agencies) you can’t get through,” he said.
Williams said while the OPDM has agreed new protocols need to be followed to respond swifter to those affected, they were faced with a challenge of imparting information to the public at nights.
Asked if the ODPM’s basic functions had failed, Williams said, “I don’t see it that way. It didn’t fail. My communications was not fast as it should have been. The agencies weren’t out there early enough.”
He also did not agree that they functioned badly.
Also asked if its command centre in Mausica to deal with emergencies had been in use, he said, “You see this as a big thing. For us this is a small thing.”
But the media tore into Williams, telling him the OPDM had failed in their “small thing,”asking what if something more catastrophic and “bigger” had occurred.
Williams calmly responded by asking the media to define failure.
Also asked about the condemnation of their slow response, Williams said some of it was true and untrue. He said once the OPDM was notified of an area facing a deluge they would verify the information through people who support the OPDM’s system.
“Every corporation had flooding. However, of the 14 (corporations) we can say 11 had significant flooding.”
Williams said the public should not behave as if flooding is a strange phenomenon.
“Folks, we do flood. All the push back thus far is on the State,” he said, which was reasonable.
Asked who should be held accountable for the lack of communication, Williams blamed the disaster management system but said citizens have to pay closer attention to the weather reports.
“Preparedness requires everyone to take measures to be ready for these circumstances.”
Efforts to contact, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon, under whose purview the ODPM falls, yesterday were unsuccessful.