By NEWSDAY STAFF Saturday, March 30 2013
PRIME MINISTER Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in her capacity as head of the National Security Council, yesterday ordered a full national security alert, calling out police, soldiers and other national security officials and agencies following an electricity outage which left the entire country without power for several hours shortly after midnight yesterday.
The electrical outage — blamed on a malfunction at the Phoenix Park Gas Processors Limited (PPGPL) plant at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate (See Page 5A) — resulted in services throughout the country that are dependent on electricity being shut down.
Such services included the country’s water supply, hospitals having to go on generator power, the national traffic light grid being shut down, national television stations being off air as cable transmission went down, cellular phone services being overloaded and then collapsing and even bank ATM machines going down.
The national power outage prompted Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar — who on Holy Thursday was ordered to be on complete bed rest as she battled with the common cold — into action. Reports reaching Newsday was that at five o’clock yesterday morning, Persad-Bissessar left her bed and visited the Phoenix Park Processors plant in Point Lisas.
There she met Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine as officials briefed her on what exactly caused the island wide power outage, how soon power could be restored and contingency plans to ensure such an outage never occurs again.
“I have been mandated by the Prime Minister to oversee an investigation and submit a report to her on what transpired and what must be done to avoid such a power outage from taking place again,” Minister Ramnarine told Newsday yesterday.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday stated the national security alert was a “precautionary measure enacted to ensure law and order was maintained and critical infrastructure remained secure during the blackout.”
The Defence Force and Police Service were mobilised and deployed, with support by air patrols from the National Security Operations Centre, into several key areas throughout the country, the release added.
The release said there was one reported incident of an attempt to loot at a supermarket in Barataria and this was prevented due to the intervention of law enforcement officials on the scene. The supermarket was not identified.
In addition to the Energy Minister, the Prime Minister has also asked Minister of Public Utilities Nizam Baksh to submit a report on the blackout and what contingencies or redundancies should be put in place to avoid a recurrence.
Also spurred into action by the blackout was National Security Minister Jack Warner who during the early morning hours began to put contingency plans in place regarding security of the nation. “I can say that I immediately got into contact with and spoke at length to the Prime Minister, the Chief of Defense Staff (Major General Kenrick Maharaj), the Acting Commissioner of Police (Stephen Williams), the Deputy Police Commissioner (Mervyn Richardson), Coast Guard officials and officials from the Ministry of Works...all before six o’clock this morning,” Warner told Newsday, when contacted for comment.
Warner added that he was not aware of any act of sabotage being responsible for the island wide power outage but hastened to add that investigations are continuing. “I will not comment on that issue until I have all the facts at hand. But I can assure that if any evidence that points in that direction, comes to hand, I will inform the Prime Minister and we will take it from there,” Warner said.
He also reiterated that at no time during or after the power outage, was national security compromised. “Although there was almost total blackout last night, this did not impact negatively on the fight against crime.
“I want to commend the soldiers and the police who responded without fail to this situation and I want to also commend those who provided aerial assistance to ensure the nation’s safety and security was not impacted,” Warner said. He said the national security alert, ordered by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, will remain in force for as long as necessary. “It will be enforced for as long as necessary. I cannot say when it will end but I can say it will be in force for as long as necessary,” Warner told Newsday.
“I want to say to the national community that there is no cause for anyone to be alarmed. The safety and security of the nation is in good hands. We are well placed to tackle and deal with any emergency whether natural or manmade,” Warner said.