Lessons learnt from Greenvale disaster

Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 12:15

Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young has said the Green­vale dis­as­ter has proved a ma­jor les­son for this coun­try con­cern­ing its ap­proach to dis­as­ter prepa­ra­tion.

The Min­is­ter ad­mit­ted that there were nu­mer­ous chal­lenges which came to the fore­front when flood wa­ters rose sud­den­ly last Oc­to­ber leav­ing scores of res­i­dents in dan­ger.

He was speak­ing at the open­ing cer­e­mo­ny for the Na­tion­al Dis­as­ter Pre­pared­ness Base­line As­sess­ment Work­shop at the Hilton Trinidad on Wednes­day.

The Min­is­ter said mo­bil­is­ing re­sources for the dis­as­ter was in­deed more dif­fi­cult that he would have liked.

“I was very dis­ap­point­ed dur­ing that process that I couldn’t even get with­in a few min­utes what are the var­i­ous as­sets we have in the var­i­ous parts of the coun­try. It’s all about lo­gis­tics and com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Young, who ex­plained that sev­er­al oth­er con­cerns oc­cu­pied his mind on that day.

Thou­sands of peo­ple were af­fect­ed by the flood­ing across the coun­try, but the Green­vale dis­as­ter Young ad­mit­ted served up the most dy­nam­ic chal­lenges.

“We were crit­i­cised, some­what un­fair­ly so, be­cause I want you all in this room to un­der­stand. Go­ing in­to Green­vale, elec­tric­i­ty is un­der­ground so an ear­ly de­ci­sion was tak­en. We have to shut off the elec­tric­i­ty. We don’t know how (the pow­er lines) are gonna re­act,’ said Young, who ex­plained that even af­ter mo­bil­is­ing forces, there were mul­ti­ple oth­er is­sues which af­fect­ed their re­sponse.

“You imag­ine go­ing in­to an area, for­get about flood wa­ters, and it be­ing pitch black and you don’t know the land­scape. Com­pli­cate that now with flood wa­ters that have risen and cov­ered cars, that have cov­ered one-storey build­ings. Per­sons are now in the sec­ond storey of their build­ings try­ing to get through the roof and you have now been out on the ground there and are be­ing told go and res­cue peo­ple,” Young re­count­ed.

Young added that mis­in­for­ma­tion shared about fa­tal­i­ties dur­ing the dis­as­ter al­so com­pli­cat­ed their re­sponse to the sit­u­a­tion.

“You’re al­ready man­ag­ing a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion from a com­mu­ni­ca­tion per­spec­tive. Those are learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and re­al-life learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Young.

“The les­son to be learnt com­ing out of that is we need to be pre­pared be­cause glob­al warm­ing is re­al,” he added.

Young al­so not­ed that mere weeks af­ter he as­sumed the role of Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty, the coun­try al­so suf­fered a 6.9 mag­ni­tude earth­quake. He said while there were no fa­tal­i­ties in that in­ci­dent, it al­so served a warn­ing that emer­gency re­sponse should be im­proved.

“This a tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ty for Trinidad and To­ba­go, let us em­brace it, let us utilise it, let us im­prove so that it will be a lot eas­i­er than it was on the last oc­ca­sion,” said Young.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Chief of De­fence Staff, Col Ronald Jef­frey and Chief US Mil­i­tary Li­ai­son Of­fice Col Clau­dia Car­riza­les both stressed in ad­di­tion to im­prov­ing avail­able re­sources, the role of the me­dia was al­so key com­po­nent in dis­as­ter man­age­ment.

Reporter: Peter Christopher