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Not good enough, Col Williams

Trinidad Express / HAVING publicly declared his intention not to quit his job, the beleaguered Colonel Dave Williams, deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), may well be packing his bags, expecting a directive to do just that.

Or perhaps he may also have now decided, having been so publicly shamed by the person with ultimate authority over his appointment, he would do the dignified thing.

In his current role, a position for which he has had extensive training, preparation and experience, the former military officer admitted publicly his agency did not perform to expectations following the spate of flooding across large parts of the country last week.

He said communications failed, that his officers and the services they have been empowered and outfitted to render to citizens in severe distress and dislocation were too slow off the mark. He promised to learn the lessons from this latest administrative and co-ordination fiasco, and to do better the next time.

That, simply, is not nearly good enough, in a context in which, just months ago, the agency was found equally wanting, with the passage of tropical storm Bret, and the distresses left in its wake.

Asked about what possible options he felt necessary to be confronted now, Colonel Williams was positively unfazed. There is no need for me to resign, he said at the weekend.

Clearly angered by this, and by the fact that the ODPM’s systems were too slow for the comfort and relief of hundreds of citizens, Prime Minister Keith Rowley appeared in no mood for obfuscation.

“I am convinced that we do not have the correct personnel in there and that we are not prepared to respond. We had adequate notice for this development and we ought not to be blaming it on communication,” he said in chastisement a day later on Sunday. He said the government was not happy with the response mechanism at the ODPM, and he would ensure the agency engaged the necessary personnel who had the required “attitude and the aptitude.”

And in the face of this, it stands to reason that Colonel Williams and some of those immediately under his own command are as good as toast. For the good Colonel, this may well be the bitterest of pills to swallow. He had been in a much similar position in the 1990s, when the outfit was known as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). This experience is demonstrably not turning out to be better, the second time around.

Perhaps not so strangely also, the Prime Minister leaves today for a two-day meeting in Mexico, the main agenda item being co-operation on prevention and treatment of natural disasters.

Nobody from the ODPM is on this delegation, perhaps further evidence of the declaration of dissatisfaction by the Prime Minister on the current leadership of the ODPM.

On the other hand, to the extent that they helped make a difference in the lives of hosts of affected citizens, those in our midst who reached out in the various ways in which they did, deserve the population’s heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

For their efforts at providing food and water, alternative shelter, clothes and emergency transfer from their threatened habitats, those ordinary first responders in many instances, continue to demonstrate the common humanity existing among us in abundance.

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