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NEWS | April 30, 2014

Delaware Soldiers exchange emergency response ideas with Trinidad and Tobago counterparts

By Staff Sgt. Wendy McDougall Delaware National Guard

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Delaware National Guard continues to build its relationship with the military and government organizations in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, its state partnership country. Over the course of three days in April, subject matter experts in disaster response shared ideas, best practices and hurdles in emergency response operations.

Delaware and its state partner share many attributes - the population density and square miles are equivalent. Another major similarity is the weather that affects both. Hurricanes are the most common natural disaster; however, earthquakes and tornadoes may also wreak havoc. One serious issue facing the islands of Trinidad and Tobago is that all regional corporations (known as counties in the United States) are exposed to the sea, with the exception of one. Aside from this exposure, the other difference between Delaware and Trinidad and Tobago is how they respond to these emergencies.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the first responders are the formations of the defence force; Regiment, Reserves, Air Guard and Coast Guard. They coordinate with other responding agencies which collect date from a multitude of agencies and disseminate that data to further coordinate the response effort. This coordinated effort is a work in progress, with simulated exercises that pin point successes and failures in the plan and process. “Failure is success; identifying our failures is what makes us successful,” said Nevile Wint, liaison officer for The National Operations Centre.

The response effort of the Delaware National Guard is drastically different. While the Guard has a federal and state mission, it has to be invited to participate in those missions. The invitation for federal missions comes from the president of the United States, while state missions come from the governor. Once invited, the Guard can typically “pre-package” equipment and personnel to stage prior to the actual event or to respond once an event occurs. These packages are flexible and can be changed as the situation and response change. The actual event determines the number of hours and people the Delaware National Guard allocates to the response. Often, enough personnel are called to duty so that two shifts can rotate as needed throughout the duration of the response.

One issue the participants from the Delaware National Guard failed to realize is the difference in the political climate between the United States and the republic. In the states, there are laws in place, so regardless of the political party in office, the laws are upheld. While changes to existing laws and new laws may occur, there are still laws in place that govern the population. In Trinidad and Tobago, the political climate is volatile and depends on the person in office. A new leader could potentially take office, changing the political climate of the country, in turn changing the standards that govern the people. Because of this, building a solid disaster response process is even more important. “Build resiliency in the process because the political environment will change,” said Col. Dallas Wingate, Delaware National Guard Director of Military Support. “If the process is resilient, it will withstand those changes.”

On the same lines of laws that govern the people, Trinidad and Tobago does not have an organization that is responsible for monitoring construction to ensure buildings are up to standard or code. Nearly 70 percent of buildings on Trinidad do not have structural approval or confirmation that they conform to the approved drawings. Should the island experience an earthquake, the lack of codes and conformity to best practices could drastically impact disaster response and recovery.

Over the three-day exchange, each organization presented a snapshot of the role they play in disaster response for their state. Representatives gained new knowledge, ideas and best practices that they can take back and apply to their disaster response plan and process. Later this year, the Delaware National Guard will host its Trinidad partners. The visit will include a tour of the Guard’s Office of Military Support and Joint Operations Center, along with discussions with the state agencies the Guard works with during disaster response missions.