Gov’t and Opposition Support Disaster Continuity Planning

Photo: JIS Photographer Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, addresses Tuesday’s (September 26) sitting of the House of Representatives.

Story Highlights

  • There is consensus between the Government and Parliamentary Opposition on the need for Jamaica and other regional countries to take the necessary measures to ensure that there is no break in government operations in the event of a major disaster.
  • Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, and Opposition Leader, Dr. Peter Phillips, articulated their positions on the matter during Tuesday’s (September 26) sitting of the House of Representatives at Gordon House, during which members were updated on the Government’s disaster relief response to several of the affected territories.
  • For his part, Dr. Phillips, who lauded the Government for committing to assist several of the hurricane-affected countries, said CARICOM Heads of Government and other supporting entities must commence the discourse towards initiating longer-term responses to natural disasters.

There is consensus between the Government and Parliamentary Opposition on the need for Jamaica and other regional countries to take the necessary measures to ensure that there is no break in government operations in the event of a major disaster.

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, and Opposition Leader, Dr. Peter Phillips, articulated their positions on the matter during Tuesday’s (September 26) sitting of the House of Representatives at Gordon House, during which members were updated on the Government’s disaster relief response to several of the affected territories.

Mr. Holness, who noted that the recent development of two Category 5 hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean was unprecedented, described it as a sign that regional governments “ought to prepare themselves for this new phenomenon”.

He said the immediate challenge for small island nations like Jamaica is the resulting breakdown in security that those natural disasters can create “which is happening right across the region”.

“If it were to happen on a larger scale, the repercussions could be devastating,” he noted.

In that regard, Mr. Holness said there is need for significant focus on matters such as the continuation of the governance structure, “because you could have a disaster that so dislocates the institutions of the society that you literally have a break in government.”

“So, we gave a directive to the National Disaster Preparedness Committee to look at the Continuation of Government Plan which would (focus on) where Government would operate from; who are the people who you would have to bring together; the communications; and the connectivity, just to ensure that if any disaster of epiphenomenal levels were to occur, that you would not have a break in government and, subsequently, a break in law and order,” he said.

Mr. Holness, who said that the Government is “looking at this matter in a very serious light,” noted that the undertaking will require “some investment” as “just writing out a continuation of government plan is not going to be enough… you are going to have to build it out”.

He advised that the Government continues to benefit from the services of an expert from the Government of Mexico, who, he said, is conducting assessments of the extent of preparedness and readiness by key State agencies, while expressing confidence that “Jamaica has a very good disaster response mechanism”.

“Where we may fall short is on actual resources, equipment and infrastructure. But I think the governance mechanism for disaster response is there,” the Prime Minister noted.

Against this background, Mr. Holness urged members of the House of Representatives to pass the proposed new Building Act, which will serve to support attendant engagements.

“We have made certain policies known regarding mandatory evacuations (and) building in areas that are considered to be at-risk (and) vulnerable. The Government will ensure that the policies, laws and regulations, in this regard, are enforced,” he said.

For his part, Dr. Phillips, who lauded the Government for committing to assist several of the hurricane-affected countries, said CARICOM Heads of Government and other supporting entities must commence the discourse towards initiating longer-term responses to natural disasters.

Additionally, he said that the region needs to “reach out to the wider international community in providing support for our regional plans”.

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