Editorial Disaster management and EMTs
Disaster Management can be defined as “the organization and management of resources and responsibilities for dealing with all humanitarian aspects of emergencies, in particular preparedness, response and recovery in order to lessen the impact of disasters.” Guyana has been extremely fortunate, through a favourable mix of geographic circumstances, to not have had to deal with a really serious natural disaster to date. Indeed the “Great Flood” of 2005 was exacerbated mainly by the fact that our preparedness, response and recovery were not up to the required standard to minimize the impact of the flooding.
Guyana has therefore been under very little pressure over the years to develop and maintain a modern disaster risk management system with the capability to accurately predict, effectively prepare, and efficiently respond to various kinds of disasters as and when they occur. Neither is our disaster preparedness and response system something that we can export to other Caribbean territories whenever they experience disasters. Our international assistance in such cases is usually limited to the loan of military personnel to affected countries.
We have bemoaned the fact in these pages before that our country does not possess emergency medical services (EMS) fully equipped with ambulances and trained on-board emergency medical technicians (called EMTs or paramedics in the USA). Despite the high preponderance of traffic accidents on our roadways, many of them resulting in fatalities and injuries, there are no visible quick-response medical teams that are despatched to accident scenes, and indeed, the man in the street is entirely unaware of the number to call in such eventualities. The Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, which should be the lead institution implementing the mobilisation of EMS in Guyana, does not have a visible posture actively promoting EMS and the deployment of EMTs in Georgetown or any other part of the country.
All in all, the state of affairs as currently exists, shows that the authorities do not seem to place much importance in real, visible, functioning and effective disaster management services and emergency medical services. The philosophy that speaks to the sanctity of human life, and the importance of the preservation of human life as a priority over every other act, does not appear to be endorsed by those who
should have the responsibility for actualising a credible disaster management system and emergency medical services, which two services are a necessary complement to each other. The task of keeping individual citizens safe from harm and injury must fall to a very committed group of trained professionals who must be equipped with the knowledge of the philosophical underpinnings of their job, in addition to having the necessary systems, equipment, vehicles and so on to function effectively.
As the Oil and Gas economy draws inexorably closer to its commercial “start-up” date, Guyana was given a small test of its capability to deal with incidents akin to what can occur in the Oil & Gas environment: a water well that was being dug by a home owner in Diamond resulted in a violent explosion of natural gas, spewing mud and slush high into the air and collapsing a section of the concrete fence surrounding the property. This incident occurred in June of this year and multiple government agencies have collaborated in diagnosing the problem and plugging the well. Yet, just a few days ago, the well erupted once more and while workers from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) have been seen working on the well, the GGMC has not been forthcoming on the status of the natural gas leak and whether it constitutes an on-going risk to the surrounding buildings, or indeed whether neighbours should take particular precautions in going about their day-today business.
It is quite clear that the workers at the various agencies that collaborated on the natural gas explosion site last June may have never experienced such an event before. This means that while their theoretical preparedness for dealing with the problem might be at an acceptable level, they might be badly lacking in practical expertise and even the possession of the right tools and equipment for correcting the problem. Rather than adopting a trial and error approach to fixing this problem, it might be a better
solution to bring in international experts and use the opportunity to train and enhance local expertise in the matter. While this problem remains unresolved, there exists an unknown level of risk to life, limb and property to the persons living in the immediate area, since the government agencies have not given any current updates on the situation.
All this takes us back to the philosophical construct on which disaster management agencies and emergency response services are set up in Guyana. In advanced countries, emergency response personnel (such as firemen, for example) are hailed as heroes because they are trained, and are prepared to put their lives and limbs on the line to save the lives of others. Here in Guyana we have no such perception of our emergency services personnel, and this must be because the concepts of “emergency services response” and “disaster management” are not woven into the national psyche.
Consequently, we are going to continue to hear of individuals being “trained” as EMTs but will never see or hear of them saving a life, because the actualization of this type of service requires a philosophical construct that seems missing in our decision makers. Consequently too, our disaster management systems will continue to lack specialised skills, equipment and systems including the use of modern technology.
Maybe sometime during the current budget discussions, our parliamentarians will have a collective epiphany on the overriding importance of keeping the population safe from injury and harm.