Country has well-developed disaster response mechanism- PM
KINGSTON, Jamaica— Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the country has a well-developed disaster response mechanism.
He was speaking against the background of Monday’s 5.6 magnitude earthquake, which impacted sections of the island, at a press conference held at the Office of the Prime Minister.
Holness described the earthquake as the most significant the country had experienced in approximately 20 years.
READ: Opposition urges gov’t to assess the country’s emergency response mechanism following earthquake
He expressed confidence in the disaster response entities, including the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB), the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the Jamaica Defence Force, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), the National Works Agency (NWA) and the National Water Commission (NWC).
“You would have seen it in action during COVID; you would have seen it in action earlier within the term where we had been threatened by hurricanes. It is very comprehensive. It takes care of the political directorate of the country, then it goes down to the executive, to the public sector bureaucracy and to our partnership with the private sector and civil society, so it’s very inclusive,” the prime minister said.
“So, there is a disaster response committee that works and is provided with legislative authority… our disaster response entities know what to do. So, there is an established protocol, which is why we are keeping this press conference to say to Jamaicans you can have confidence in tomorrow, in the future, that the Government is prepared and we are able to respond,” he added.
Holness said the Government remains committed to putting in fiscal buffers to ensure that the country is able to respond to disasters.
“If the situation were worse, my own belief is that we would still be able to respond. Yes, we would be stretched, because I’m not here saying we would be well resourced and we have all the necessary equipment to be able to respond, but certainly in terms of management and technical know-how and experience, and in terms of the will and commitment to keep Jamaica safe, we are very strong in that regard,” he said.
The prime minister said more investments to strengthen Jamaica’s resilience will be made in equipment and technology as the economy gets stronger.
“The greatest investment is improving our building codes and every Jamaican who is building, build stronger and follow those building codes,” he urged.
Holness is calling on Jamaicans to return to normal activities.
“Whenever there is a disaster, it lends itself to a feeling of uncertainty, and I got a sense today that the earthquake certainly had a psychological impact,” he said.
“In fact, we note that in the nine parishes that were affected or felt the earthquake, there was some disruption in our economic and social activity, particularly in Kingston, where the majority of our workforce would have been sent home early out of consideration for everyone’s safety and mental well-being. So, tomorrow I want the country to come back to work, but when we come back to work it is with the knowledge and understanding of what we need to do in order to be prepared,” Holness said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Desmond McKenzie, said the ODPEM activated its response mechanism immediately after the earthquake.
He said, too, that municipal corporations will continue to work with other agencies to assess the damage islandwide.
McKenzie said the National Disaster Response Committee will be convened today (October 31), “for us to look at what took place and for us to make plans going forward”.
For his part, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Matthew Samuda, informed that preliminary investigations indicate that there was no major impact to the country’s water systems.
He said monitoring of the systems will continue, as some of the older pipes may have been impacted.
Additionally, the prime minister said the building department of the Ministry of Education will carry out inspection of schools, “to ensure that the schools that have reported damage, that the damage is not at the level where it would necessitate the closure of the schools”.
Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, said the ministry’s Emergency Response Unit has been activated, and pointed out that monitoring will continue to assess structural infrastructure as well as human impact.
He reported that there were increased visits to the accident and emergency departments, primarily by students who suffered from anxiety.
Dr Tufton said the Kingston Public Hospital indicated one incident of trauma.