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TSTT strengthens disaster preparedness for hurricane season

TSTT hosts disaster management partners from MET office, ODPM, Seismic Research
TSTT hosts disaster management partners from MET office, ODPM, Seismic Research Center and T&TEC

If a slightly more active 2013 Hurricane season was not enough for T&T to worry about, seismologists have also warned that given the pattern of major earthquakes over the decades and centuries, the nation is overdue for a major shakeup.

These views were shared during TSTT's launch of its Disaster Management Program last Friday at the company's Training Centre in Chaguaramas.

Guest speakers from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), Seismic Research Centre (SRC), Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Services (MET Office) and the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) noted that these realities were not intended to alarm citizens, but to encourage the public and disaster management stakeholders to be mindful of these heightened risks when implementing emergency management programs. 

Engineer James Richardson, Head of Product Development at TSTT and coordinator for the Disaster Management Program noted TSTT’s ongoing drive to continuously improve its capacity to respond to emergencies and raise the awareness of disaster preparedness throughout the organisation. He said the enhancing of TSTT’s disaster management program will see a decentralising of strategic response teams to provide rapid response to local and national emergencies. 

 This is much more than just about storms and hurricanes. “It’s about minimising the impact of disasters, whether natural or man-made, on people’s daily lives” said Richardson. With over TT$5b in assets and serving up to 1 Million users, Richardson stated that TSTT had a duty to the country to be ready, both in its role at ODPM for national emergencies and in TSTT’s day to day management of telecoms infrastructure.

This sentiment was echoed by T&TEC’s David St Clair who advised that his company was working to strengthen collaboration with TSTT and other key state agencies, regional corporations and ODPM to be able to deal with any destruction to power supply channels caused by disasters, in the quickest possible timeframe.

A disaster has the potential to dramatically change the living circumstances of everyone in a small island state like Trinidad and Tobago. Stating that it is impossible to predict a disaster, Regional Coordinator of the ODPM, Eric Mackie, said it is imperative for TSTT and other disaster management teams to put measures in place to ensure it can provide a rapid response to customers. Mackie said the torrential flooding which caused unprecedented destruction in Diego Martin last August was a wake-up call for all citizens, especially those who believe that “God is a Trini.”

Education Officer of the Seismic Research Centre,Stacey Edwards, agreed. She noted that hundreds of earthquakes are recorded in Trinidad annually and warned given the type of tectonic plates around the Caribbean, statistically the region should generate a magnitude 8 earthquakes every 100 years. She said the largest earthquake close to Trinidad occurred in 1756 --more than 200 years ago and the largest quake in the Eastern Caribbean occurred in 1843--more than one 100 years ago. Therefore, based on patterns, Edwards said seismic experts agree that T&T is poised for a “significant” earthquake “any time now.”

“Constructing buildings to withstand earthquakes, public education and just being prepared will go a long way to reducing personal and commercial losses,” she added.

Sanita Shakeer of the MET office said the hurricane season (June 1- November 30) accounted for a significant part of the rainy season, which began on May 19. “Already the first tropical cyclone and named storm of the 2013 hurricane season—Andrea — recorded on June 5, caused flooding in Cuba, the Yucatan Peninsula and much of the East Coast of the US.”  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms, of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

Richardson said TSTT was initiating its disaster management program now to be in a better position to effectively respond should the need arise. “The disaster management teams understand that this role may mean extended hours in command centres, round the clock if need be, away from loved ones and with the attendant duress of making crucial decisions to avert or minimise crises. “The public expects nothing less of its utility professionals.”