Director of the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Allan Stewart says there is urgent need to revisit the Disaster Measures Act to give disaster management bodies more power to tackle disasters comprehensively.
Speaking to Newsday Tobago on Monday, after addressing the launch of a week-long disaster preparedness workshop for young people at the Calder Hall Multi-Purpose Facility, Stewart noted the legislation, in its existing state, is largely response-oriented.
"It is heavily focused on response. Right now there is draft legislation to be tabled whereby there is need to improve that act and will look comprehensively at disaster management, in that it would allow for what you do before, what you do during and what you do after," he said.
"The act, in its present stage, really focuses on when something occurs what you will do when we respond."
Stewart said the legislation must address mitigation, building codes, building sites and construction practices.
It is also about giving the disaster management office "the type of teeth that is necessary to be really enshrined in legislation that when you say, 'Go,' you go and when you say, 'Come,' you come."
Stewart said the existing arrangement among stakeholders is more co-operative.
"But from the angle of the Tobago House of Assembly, these things need to be enshrined in our legislative agenda, (so) that we are able to undertake these activities in a more forceful manner."
For example, Stewart said people evacuate their premises voluntarily in times of disaster.
"So these are some of the key areas that could be considered as we look to improve the act going forward."
Saying the issue is high on the agenda, Stewart said National Security Minister Stuart Young has placed significant value on disaster risk.
"The minister that we presently have is very much concerned about these things and I am quite certain it is something that is going to happen very, very soon.
"Disaster risk in the country has gained the attention of the highest office and certainly we expect these things to happen soon."
The disaster preparedness workshop, now in its second year, was a project of the Division of Sport and Youth Affairs and TEMA. It also featured contributions by the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
During the week, sessions were held in shelter management, chainsaw operations, radio operations, first aid and CPR and risk management, among other areas.