Gov’t dismisses PNP’s claim of poor quake response
LOCAL Government Minister Desmond McKenzie on Tuesday snubbed a call by the Opposition People’s National Party for an “immediate report”examining what it described as “the obvious failure” of the country’s disaster response mechanisms, led by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), after Monday’s earthquake.
Opposition spokeswoman on local government Natalie Neita Garvey, in a statement issued on Tuesday, said the “country did not receive any communication from ODPEM until late Monday evening, hours after the strongest earthquake to rock Jamaica in 30 years”.
In emphasising that the Disaster Risk Management Act, which was passed in 2015, entrusts ODPEM with significant responsibilities in Jamaica’s disaster preparedness and emergency response management, Neita Garvey said that for up to six hours after the earthquake there was no sign of activity from ODPEM.
“And there was no evidence of any coordination of first responders, whose duty is to provide efficient responses,” she said, at the same time commending the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Fire Brigade, public hospitals and Jamaica Public Service Company for their efforts to restore normality.
She also said that due to the failure to coordinate the agencies and present accurate preliminary reports, Jamaicans experienced “the spectacle of the prime minister informing the country that damage was minor while reports of infrastructure and housing damage, and school closures were being broadcast by media”.
Neita Garvey further called on McKenzie “to ensure that the country’s response mechanism is thoroughly reviewed, and steps taken to correct all weaknesses that may prevent ODPEM from fulfilling its mandate, according to law”.
But McKenzie, in a tersely worded response on Tuesday afternoon, said Jamaica’s disaster response mechanisms “are fully operational and effective”.
“The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management played a crucial role in our assessment and emergency response in accordance with the Disaster Risk Management Act,” McKenzie declared.
He said ODPEM, through the National Emergency Operations Centre, coordinated the responses of all members of the Disaster Risk Management Council, including the Fire Brigade, police, National Water Commission, National Works Agency and the telecoms providers.
“The ODPEM, in collaboration with other relevant agencies, worked diligently to assess the situation and reported directly to the prime minister who is the chair of the Disaster Risk Management Council. The prime minister advised the country in a precise and timely manner,” McKenzie insisted.
“Thorough reviews of the country’s disaster mechanisms are constantly done as part of the Government’s disaster mitigation strategy,” he said, adding that “responding to a significant event like an earthquake requires careful evaluation and coordination to ensure that information sent to the public is factual”.
Monday’s 5.6 magnitude earthquake, forced evacuations, knocked out power and resulted in some businesses and schools shuttering early. Chaotic scenes dotted roads in the Corporate Area during the early afternoon as scores of students and workers headed home, resulting in gridlock that lasted hours.
The quake, which had an epicentre located about 4 km west-northwest of Hope Bay, Portland, occurred approximately 10:57 am.
— Alicia Dunkley-Willis