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