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ODPEM not prepared in case of a natural disaster

Published:Monday | January 19, 2015 | 12:00 AMAndrew Harris
A tractor contracted by the National Works Agency clears a section of Jacks Hill Road in St Andrew which was blocked by a landslide caused by tropical storm Gustav in 2008. The Auditor General has said that the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) does not have information on where all the resources availble for use, in the event of a disaster, are located.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is not in the best position to effectively respond to emergencies as a result of its failure to maintain an up-to-date list of all the resources that are available to be mobilised in the event of a disaster.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, in her 2014 annual report tabled in the House of Representatives last Tuesday, said that of the 20 primary responders listed in the national disaster response matrix, the national database only has information on five responders.

"ODPEM was unable to determine the available functioning operational equipment available to immediately respond to emergencies," the report said.

Monroe Ellis said the database will provide complete information on the status and availability of operational equipment for disaster response.

"This deficiency will retard ODPEM's ability to promptly respond to the needs of communities during disasters and emergencies," the report said.

According to the auditor general's report, ODPEM's database of responders' operational equipment is incomplete, as not all responders' equipment has entered within the database on which ODPEM had requested information in 2012. The operational equipment includes specialised, heavy, general and protective equipment such as backhoes, trucks and protective gear.

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott has described the state of affairs as sloppy and has vowed to ensure that the matter is addressed. The minister noted that the National Works Agency works closely with the ODPEM to mobilise equipment and pre-positioning them in certain disaster prone areas.

"Where the limited resources are concerned or the incomplete database, that was as a result of collaborating with the National Works Agency ... . That does not negate the sloppiness in not completing a report like that, but what I will do is ensure that it is completed," the minister said.

Meanwhile, Arscott said the policy of the Government is not to work on reaction, but to build resilience and capacity as a part of disaster preparedness and management.

"We are trying to build up our national disaster fund, and ODPEM resources is not limited to only that fact. If we have a major disaster, the country has a catastrophic insurance policy that in case of a significant and major disaster it would be able to fund some quite substantial infrastructure reconstruction," he explained.

"We do a lot of training exercises with community groups and especially vulnerable areas, where the victims are prepared for the situation to create shelters," Arscott added.