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Disaster preparedness keeps T&T open for business

TSTT disaster management members meeting with ODPM
TSTT disaster management members meeting with ODPM

The Caribbean has the unenviable reputation as one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world. So said Central Bank Governor Jwala Rambarran in his remarks for the 5th Biennial International Business, Banking and Finance Conference. He said mitigation of natural disaster risks must be placed on the region’s front burner, warning that destruction of infrastructure due to natural disasters can adversely affect a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and lead to increased debt levels.

The goal of emergency response and disaster management experts is to minimise damage and losses and create a foundation for an effective recovery in the aftermath of a disaster. For TSTT that means putting focus of the company’s infrastructure to ensure that technology supports the company’s and the country’s return to normalcy as quickly as possible. With the warning of an above average 2013 hurricane season, TSTT has reactivated its disaster management program with enhancements to safeguard its employees and infrastructure;  support national disaster management efforts and ensure customers are given the best possible service in the event of a national emergency.

On Friday 21st June, TSTT hosted a workshop for its managers and Executives who are on the company’s disaster management structure. They received firsthand information on the potential impact of natural and other disasters on the country from specialists from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), the Seismic Research Centre (SRC), Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Services (MET Office) and the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC).

The importance of TSTT takingsteps to minimise the impact of natural and other disasters must be seen against the backdrop that the company serves over one million individual and business users and has billions of dollars in assets comprising core telecoms infrastructure which would be the bedrock for the company’s and the country’s recovery in the aftermath of a national disaster.

Telecoms have become such an integral part of social and commercial life that any major disturbance in communications has a ripple effect across the entire country. Additionally, in the aftermath of a disaster, effective communications systems are critical to coordinating relief efforts and setting the course for a sustainable recovery effort.

TSTT has multiple stakeholders to support in the event of a disaster. The company’s representatives are part of the ODPM’s disaster response strategy. At the same time TSTT recognises that it must also address the needs of businesses, individual customers and the safety of its employees. TSTT’s Disaster Management Program therefore finds the most effective way of serving these interests, given the fact that in an emergency, decisions have to be made about the most effective deployment of resources.

TSTT’s disaster coordinator and Head of Product Development James Richardson, said that over the years TSTT has refined its disaster management structure to better implement the company’s disaster response and recovery efforts. Its National Emergency and Operations Centre (NEOC) includes company executives who work along with a Disaster Management Team (DMT) and District Emergency Operations Centres (DEOC) helmed by other managers and experts in TSTT from a range of professional disciplines including HR, Engineering and Logistics among others.  TSTT has also forged ties with various agencies including T&TEC, Water and Sewage Authority (WASA), Fire Services, Police, ODPM as well as vendors for fuel, generators, hardware and critical sparesto expedite its response to damage to infrastructurecaused by a natural disaster.

TSTT’s Executive-led NEOC has the responsibility to trigger the activation of the emergency management plan and to determine the prioritisation of actions during emergency situations. Access to real-time information is a key requirement for decision making so TSTT’s emergency management structure provides for information gathering from electronic systems and staff in the field. This ensures that informed decisions can be made about the company’s operations and the welfare of staff while working in collaboration with other disaster coordinating agencies like ODPM.

In the field, TSTT’s District Emergency Operations Centres (DEOC) are strategically located in North and South Trinidad and Tobago to focus on coordinating activities within each of their geographic areas of responsibility. A DEOC coordinates preparatory activities to minimise the impact of an impending event; monitors all company operations during an event to determine the impact on personnel, property, networks and services; maintains on-going records of damages and outages and develops preliminary restoration and recovery plans. It also establishes response teams and Incident Commanders for working on restoring compromised infrastructure and collating information after the disaster incident has been resolved.

Bridging the internal activities of TSTT with external activities of other utilities and the ODPM is an integral part of the Disaster Management Plan and that role is performed by TSTT’s Disaster Management Team (DMT). The DMT coordinates efforts among all District Emergency Operations Centres based on active communications with agencies such as ODPM, Seismic Research Center, MET Office, T&TEC etc.

The DMT and the DEOC perform important information gathering and feedback functions that are critical to decision makers within and outside of TSTT during a disaster. This greatly enhances the speed and efficiency with which limited resources can be directed to deliver the greatest benefit to the public. In the end, the aim is to ensure that normalcy is restored in the shortest possible time while taking steps to strengthen damaged infrastructure to withstand future disaster incidents.