The trinidad Guardian / We have by now probably exhausted all available means to pillory the executive management of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) and, hopefully, by the time the ink dries on this page, the honourable/required intervention has already been made.

The photo-ops will soon lose their sting/sweetness and their banality recognised. The online hacks would have filed their images of loss and distress to be employed as tools of political messaging on another occasion.

Following this latest turbulent sweep of weather, the waters will also recede and so will much of the panic and concern-consigned to the long memory of the hustings but not to the kind of recollection that stimulates urgent, studied action.

Had such a condition not been an enduring feature of our public life, documents such as the National Physical Development Plan of 1984 would have been cited like holy scripture in the face of unimaginable neglect and collective negligence.

Though the Plan suffered the outrageous fortune of imminent political transition back then, it persists in its relevance as a statement of intent-a veritable pact designed to mediate the exigencies of development. By then, the late bard had already reminded us that “the price of progress is high.” We applauded, then turned our backs and walked away knowing full well that “the Plan” never stood a decent chance.

So, though the military protocols for surrender must certainly have been reviewed by all concerned over the past few days, the challenge of the ODPM represents a much wider crisis of responsibility worthy of shouldered arms all around.

It might well be, as Stephen Ramroop reminded us in this space on Monday, that many texts have emerged as evidence of obligations claimed. Yet, we somehow sense that plans and protocols are without value in the absence of social and political fragments assembled as a singular whole. It is also clearly not enough to activate the hardware of mitigation and recovery without the software of peace and calm and the confidence that comes from people who know you’ve got their backs.

A little bit again and my name would have called. It was 2009 and the then leadership of the ODPM had asked a few media folk to think about the ways our industry could help address what yet another text described as the need for “consistent, comprehensible, and actionable information about potential and actual disaster situations”-a process viewed as “vital to protecting public safety and welfare and to maintaining the stability of democratic institutions.”

I am quoting from the Crisis Communication Guidelines and Response Plan of 2011 which, with some important modifications to accommodate social media, encapsulates all the important elements to address the likelihood of any “breakdown in communications.”

The 2011 draft made perfect sense, however tardy in its arrival and followed adoption in 2001 of a Caricom-inspired Strategy and Results Framework for Comprehensive Disaster Management. The paper trail is long, long, long. We have simply not been serious.

Only recently, for example, we were reminded by the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) about the serious problem that exists at Cumberland Hill.

Cumberland Hill is the most important communications transmission hub in the country. There can be found the towers that help most of our broadcasters reach their audiences. There is real concern that land slippage and other environmental hazards at that location can endanger the ability of the country’s main broadcasters to communicate important information to citizens. Who has taken responsibility for this? Go back to the 2001 document and you will find an answer.

These things do not make for heroic photo-ops and cannot ease immediate pain. But they certainly distinguish pretend countries from real ones.

Of course, it will take more than a fresh, new team at the ODPM to help us follow these dreams of development. The current situation is sad and indefensible.


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