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Policies, Plans and Legislation

The importance of policy and legislation is often overlooked in Trinidad and Tobago. The goal of both policy and legislation is to establish a formal basis for achieving the objectives of any governmental or non-governmental organisation, institution or business which adopts and enforces them. Consequently, policy and legislation achieve their purpose through two distinctly different approaches.  However it must be underscored that they are often developed simultaneously and can complement each other.

What is a policy? Simply put, a policy is a streamlined set of guidelines for decision making and achieving rational outcomes. However, policies do not always outline what is actually done but instead focus on what needs to be done and why these activities are so critical. The how, where and when for achieving objectives are clearly outlined in procedures, strategies, plans or protocols.

Trinidad and Tobago, under the Westminster system, classifies primary legislation as Acts of Parliament. These Acts exist first as bills before they are debated in Parliament and subsequently, passed into law. Whereas policy can only guide the decision-making process, legislation can serve many additional purposes which include: regulation, authorization, prohibition, provision, sanction, declaration or restriction. Therefore, legislation provides ‘reinforced’ support in order to effectively and authoritatively achieve objectives that are deemed important. Many fields utilize policy and legislation and the field of disaster risk management is no different.


Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy and Legislation: A FURTHER LOOK

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the regional disaster management body formerly known as CDERA, encourages the implementation of comprehensive disaster management, which is defined as the management of all hazards (that threaten human life, economy and infrastructure) through the phases of prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation. This is carried out at all levels and segments of civil society, private and public sectors and the general population. It is therefore no mystery that in order to effectively carry out comprehensive disaster management, a national institutional basis (i.e. policy and legislation) must be established. Furthermore, history has shown that as international best practice and expertise on hazards and disasters evolved, so too have the approaches to carrying out disaster management in Trinidad and Tobago.

The following National Policies have been drafted for the disaster management system in Trinidad & Tobago:

  • Comprehensive Disaster Management Policy Framework
  • Critical Infrastructure Policy Framework
  • Hazard Mitigation Policy
  • National Relief Policy
  • Shelter Management Policy
  • Volunteer Policy

Disaster Management Policy and Legislation

Currently the primary piece of legislation governing disaster management in Trinidad and Tobago is the Disasters Measures Act Chapter 16:50 (Act 47 of 1978). The immediate ‘red flag’ is the date this legislation was passed, which was 1978. This antiquated piece of legislation only briefly addresses the following:

  • Compensation to those who receive damages or loss in relation to activities carried out under the act
  • Liability of persons acting in accordance with the Act
  • The authority and powers given to those responsible or appointed to act in response to a disaster
  • The Presidential proclamation of a disaster area

It should be noted that subsidiary legislation that govern specific aspects of Comprehensive Disaster Management also exists. For instance the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service (TTFS) and the Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) have legislation that governs their daily responsibilities. However embedded in their legislation are stipulations that distinctly align them with the management of major hazard impacts. It is useful to note that although specific reference is not made to hazards, emergencies or disasters, these elements are implied. Therefore the existing regulatory framework for disaster management is spread far and wide throughout Trinidad and Tobago’s pool of legislation (See listing)

As we reflect, we must recognise the attempt by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), predecessor to the ODPM to develop a Bill that if passed and enacted would have become the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act 1998. This Act would have addressed gaps and the incorporation of ‘modern’ ideology on the management of emergencies, hazards, and disasters. Additionally, the alignment of the organisation with international best practices would have cemented the transition from a response-centric approach to dealing with hazards impacts to a paradigm which is more all-encompassing, i.e., a more comprehensive approach. For unacknowledged reasons, this Act was never passed, however it serves as the foundation for the development of new legislation.

In 2008, another effort to revive the development of legislation and align the ODPM’s policy and legal framework with international regional best practice was initiated through the review of several exemplary models. Some noteworthy models in this regard are St. Lucia’s Disaster Management Act 2006; South Africa’s Disaster Management Act 2002 and National Disaster Management Policy; and Queensland Australia’s Disaster Management Act 2003 and Strategic Policy. This assessment and analysis of other policies have provided us with congruous key components, approaches, considerations and principles, all applicable to the current situation in Trinidad and Tobago. These are summarized below.

The key components of A Disaster Management Policy:

A National Disaster Management Policy should consist of the following basic components: Goals, Vision, Mission, Policy Statement, Objectives, Legislative Stipulations, Codes, and Agreements. It should have the following fundamental considerations: 

  • A Comprehensive approach – strengthen preparation for, prevention and mitigation of response to and recovery from hazard impacts/ disaster
  • A resilient community approach – Strategies for strengthening general public’s ability to better cope with hazard impacts.
  • An all agencies approach – All relevant agencies understand their role and collaborate towards the same goal.
  • An all hazards approach  - focus on all hazards that impact the citizens and landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Enablers identified – All supporting activities, strategies, stakeholders and requirements for achieving all objectives
  • Incorporation of legislative components – ensuring alignment between policy and legislation

Key Principles of a Disaster Management Policy:

  • A culture of prevention is fostered
  • Community involvement is facilitated
  • Disaster assistance is equitable
  • Driven by all spheres of government
  • Land use and development policy incorporate disaster management principles
  • Must be transparent and inclusive
  • Priority is given to the most vulnerable in the society

The key components of Disaster Management Legislation:

  • Clarifies the modus operandi for the declaration of a disaster and emergency powers
  • Identifies offences against disaster managers and  restrictions on citizens after the declaration of a disaster
  • Identifies regulations for volunteer participation in disaster management
  • Mandates the establishment of  National Disaster Management Advisory Committee(s)
  • Mandates the role and responsibilities of the National Disaster Management Agency
  • Outlines responsibilities and components of Emergency Operation Centres & a National Emergency Operation Centre
  • Outlines responsibilities and elements of a National Response Plan
  • Outlines responsibilities for agencies that provide emergency sheltering

Special considerations: Legislation and Policy

Disaster management legislation and policy must address and consider issues specific to Trinidad & Tobago, including:

  • Ensuring that all measures and mechanisms are in place to protect employees and the wider community from industrial hazards
  • International treaties and responsibilities, such as Trinidad & Tobago’s role as a focal point under the CDEMA agreement
  • Protection of critical utilities and other infrastructure
  • Protection of Oil and gas infrastructure
  • Protection of the Tourism sector

The Way Forward

In light of the foregoing, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management has made strides to move away from immediate post-catastrophe responses to a more comprehensive approach that examines all aspects of the cycle: Preparedness, Prevention and Mitigation, Recovery and Rehabilitation. To support these changes and initiatives, an ongoing strategy of policy development has successfully led to the development of several critical policies which were mentioned previously. Acquiring the legislative clout through an Act that serves as an umbrella to all legislation, policy and relevant stakeholders is the next step.

In 2011, the ODPM is working on the revision of the draft Disaster Preparedness and Response Bill 1998 with the aim of presenting a suitable and comprehensive piece of legislation to our country’s legislators. This Bill will incorporate all the key components discussed previously and will be developed through focused and in-depth stakeholder consultation and the solidifying of linkages with all existing policy and secondary legislation. It is anticipated that stakeholder compliance will ensure that the national vulnerabilities, concerns and issues are addressed through:

  • Building the capacity of all disaster management stakeholders, especially the ODPM
  • Empowering the ODPM to fulfil its mandate for national comprehensive disaster management
  • Ensuring that there is a clear disaster preparedness plan. The Hyogo Framework 2005-2015 Words into Action highlights that an effective preparedness plan requires a clear legislative and policy framework that clarify ‘mandates, responsibilities, protocols, linkages, coordination structure between different actors both horizontally and vertically’
  • Ensuring that there is an effective knowledge management and information sharing platform
  • Ensuring that early warning systems are developed and utilized
  • Ensuring that the status of the existing building code is lifted to a compulsory standard
  • Ensuring that land use planning and development consider disaster risk reduction
  • Integrating all existing legislation and filling gaps
  • Mandating the relevant authorities to ensure public awareness and resilience

At the end of this process, the ODPM hopes that the legislation will provide the much needed ‘reinforced’ support in order to effectively and authoritatively achieve the disaster management objectives for Trinidad and Tobago. Once this is done, we will be nearer to achieving the ultimate goal which is a culture of safety and resilience in our twin island Republic.  

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