Are we hurricane ready?
Despite the old Trini colloquialism of “God is a Trini”, this year’s ongoing hurricane season, violent and tumultuous at best, has caused concern even in us laidback Trinis. With recent Hurricane Irma, ripping through countries of the Leeward Islands and South Florida and leaving death and millions of dollars of destruction in her wake, we ask ourselves, “Is T&T Hurricane ready?”
Given our geographical location, on the outskirts of the Hurricane belt, Trinidad and Tobago has been spared by numerous natural disasters, even when close neighbours like Grenada and Barbados were not as fortunate. As such, through years of luck, disaster prevention and preparedness have not been on the forefront of the average Trini’s agenda or psyche.
On the global scale, warmer waters and rapid climate change has intensified hurricane forces and consequently the effects on countries in their paths. Locally, though we’re no stranger to flash flooding and isolated landslides which wreak havoc in communities throughout the country, these incidents pale in comparison to our Caribbean counterparts.
As Trinidad and Tobago continues to develop at an exponential rate, many variables come into focus when assessing the vulnerability of Trinidad and Tobago and our readiness to mitigate the fallout from natural disasters:
- Road infrastructure – As a Real Estate firm, we constantly respond to flooding and water damage questions from concerned potential buyers. With most residential areas in Trinidad and Tobago close to waterways, tributaries and rivers, a torrential downpour for most of the population means impassable roads, endless traffic and for some, damaged property and crippled livelihood. Fortunately, grants are available for affected citizens who are not in a position to manage effects on their own.
- Building infrastructure – Commercial tenants demand safer office spaces and are increasingly informed about health and safety standards. Consequently, commercial building owners have had to comply with regulations when constructing and outfitting new projects to compete for a qualified, attractive clientele. In some cases, international building codes are utilized, to ensure that these structures are hurricane, earthquake and flood safe. However, in our country it is not required by law to abide by these building standards. On the residential side, while we do have a Town and Country Planning Act, it does not take into consideration mandatory building codes to safeguard against natural disasters.
- Disaster recovery and relief – The ODPM (Office for Disaster Preparedness and Management), formed out of the previous body NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) in 2005, focuses not just on response but also on “the Disaster Management Cycle: Preparedness, Mitigation, Response, Recovery and Rehabilitation phases.” The cycle which begins with preparedness, centres on educating the public through outreach programmes and awareness. However, though we have an agency to manage recovery and relief efforts, funding of such efforts raises a concern, especially in a period of economic depression.
- Culture – Our enviable, easygoing culture serves us well in most situations however, our latent mentality of dependency on authorities and “passing the buck” has not served well in mini disasters. Natural disasters are unavoidable and unescapable, but as a country, we can do our part by being proactive in disaster preparedness and prevention and safeguarding our own families and properties.
For more information on Disaster Preparedness, check the OPDM website.
To assist in Hurricane Irma relief, click here.