The widespread flooding over the past two weeks showed gaps in the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management's (ODPM) ability to deal with a national disaster.
Head of the ODPM Captain Neville Wint confirmed to Guardian Media on Friday that he will be calling for internal changes to ensure that the unit is better prepared to deal with such national crises in the future. One such change is the legislative implementation of a mandatory evacuation in areas expected to be affected by a natural disaster like hurricanes or flooding.
Wint said he was disappointed with the response from his own ODPM, the Defence Force and the Coast Guard after massive floods inundated parts of La Horquetta, Valsayn, and Central last Wednesday. Days later, people are still dealing with the aftermath of the loss sustained when several rivers broke their respective banks across the country.
"The Coast Guard couldn't get to the affected areas because they were coming from Chaguaramas and that takes time. They were stuck in gridlock traffic," Wint said.
Wint said the ODPM was reviewing a plan to make rafts and small flat bottom dinghies available to the regional corporations to expedite the rescue efforts of people stranded or marooned by the rising flood waters.
Over the past few days, marooned residents were rescued by citizens in private boats. Many took to social media to ask for help as the State agencies responsible for helping seemed to have collapsed
Wint said he was disappointed with the overall response to the flooding and is seeking to have legislation passed to enforce mandatory evacuation in areas that are expected to be hit hard by a natural disaster.
There is currently no legislation that the ODPM could levy to force people to leave their homes.
"In the absence of that we are just reacting and it is instance-based," he said.
He said a proactive approach would be to have people at the shelters before the situation worsens.
"But right now we all wait and see and then act," he said.
The ODPM, he said, responds to the regional bodies during a crisis.
"When the flooding was bad in some areas in Port-of-Spain and the corporation decided it would use the Woodbrook Facility as a shelter, they needed 200 cots and blankets and we provided that for them," Wint said.
In the last budget, the ODPM was allocated some $20 million.
"It is enough for now," he said.
He said despite the slow pace of the response and his own disappointment in the pace of the ODPM, there was no pre-planning, clearing of water courses or desilting that could have prevented the inundation of water that swamped communities.
"You have to understand that the watercourses just couldn't handle the amount of water," he said.
"No amount of sandbagging would have helped.
"Lessons have been learned, the gaps have been identified at all agencies."
He said the lessons included improved communications and warning systems to help get the word out to the people before they are impacted by floods.
The ODPM falls under the National Disaster Management Office and is responsible for public education and community outreach activities, coordinating national mitigation and capacity building efforts to safeguard property and life. The ODPM is expected to work with other government agencies and first responders in protecting public health and safety, restoring essential government services and critical infrastructure and providing emergency relief to those severely affected by hazard impact.
This means that the ODPM's role as coordinator and manager of crises and emergencies comes into play through mobilising key players and resources in order to utilise the best approach to reducing the loss of life and damage to property. Some of the ODPM's major players include the First Responder agencies (Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service, the Municipal Corporations, the Ministry of Works and Transport and the Emergency Medical Services). These first responders are the people who will be seen on the ground after a hazard