THE MOVE to overhaul the TT Met Office’s early warning system can only put citizens in a better position to make decisions and, therefore, reduce the risk of casualties accompanying natural disasters. But for real gains to be made, this system must be complemented by greater vigilance on the part of members of the public as well as a healthier collaboration between the Met Office and the Office for Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM).
On Monday we received a good forecast of things to come with the unveiling of the new system. According to Met Office quality manager Haley Anderson, alerts will now be issued much further in advance, as much as two to five days away. A watch will follow these alerts and then a warning as the prospect of an adverse event solidifies.
This means citizens will no longer be surprised by the sudden issuing of a warning seemingly out of the blue, and that they will have a more honest assessment of meteorological conditions.
But not only will citizens have more forewarning, the quality of messaging will greatly improve. According to Anderson, the Met Office will be keeping the information short, simple, direct and clear, with less jargon, and not hidden beneath specialist jargon.
A new website is to be built, and this will be a direct portal for pertinent information. Additionally, there are plans to implement RSS feeds to provide automatic updates for those who have signed up, and SMS messaging, with a focus on rural communities.
At a time when there is so much lethargy and malaise in the public sector, it is good to see at least one State agency finally taking its head out of the sand and adapting to the times, using tools at its disposal. For too long has the Met Office relied on a deterministic true/false way of issuing warnings instead of a more probabilistic method.
It is important for the public to have time to adapt to and learn about the new warning system. The prevailing view that “God is a Trini” must be disassembled and a greater degree of awareness and sensitivity of the changed climate we are in must be fostered.
At the end of the day, the most advanced warning system will not succeed if people, through poor habits and complacency, do not take the information available to them seriously. In this regard, a better quality of information provision might be one way to counter lax attitudes.
Finally, the Met Office and the ODPM must work together to ensure there is never a repeat of the debacle that occurred last Divali. While the new warning system will go some way to directly empowering the public to act, the ODPM cannot abdicate its responsibility to provide timely and meaningful support to citizens when they are most in need.