Editorial

Be prepared for natural disasters of all kinds

Friday, January 12, 2018

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The assurance by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) that it has been “doing quite a lot” in the area of informing and educating Jamaicans how to respond to forces of nature, such as tsunamis, is encouraging.

According to ODPEM Director General Major Clive Davis, the agency conducted tsunami simulation programmes in Port Antonio and Annotto Bay, as well as drills in more than 25 schools last year.

“There are a number of buoys that are sitting in the ocean that provide valuable information whenever or if there is a threat of a tsunami,” Major Davis told this newspaper on Wednesday, adding that the ODPEM continues to work closely with the University of the West Indies, Mona campus Earthquake Unit which, he said, now has advanced equipment for recording earthquake events.

Major Davis was responding to concerns raised about Jamaica's state of preparedness in the wake of a massive magnitude 7.6 earthquake that struck in the Caribbean Sea between the coast of Honduras and the Cayman Islands late Tuesday night.

The quake, which shook buildings in Honduras, resulted in officials warning people around the region to be alert to the threat of possible tsunami surges.

Although the warning centres had said no tsunami waves had been confirmed, they issued advisories stressing that people in Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands, as well as on the coasts of Mexico and Central America should be aware of the tsunami danger. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had also said sea levels could rise from a foot to three feet above normal.

Although the tsunami advisories were cancelled throughout the region later on Tuesday night, there was considerable anxiety in Jamaica. While that is a natural human reaction, we get the sense that, outside of those residents of Old Harbour Bay in St Catherine who evacuated the area as a precaution, the majority of Jamaicans were unsure of how to respond to the tsunami threat.

That reality, we believe, should nudge the authorities to increase, expand and, where necessary, improve the State's information and education programmes as the populace cannot be too equipped to respond to natural disasters.

Major Davis also told us that Old Harbour Bay was the first area to benefit from a formal warning system implemented in 2015 in partnership with the governments of Chile and Spain in association with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

Last September, the ODPEM told a meeting of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation Parish Disaster Preparedness and Public Health Committee that Port Maria in St Mary and Bog Walk in St Catherine were, like Old Harbour, chosen as areas where early warning systems would be established.

That can't happen too soon, but the authorities should give serious effort to having more systems across the island, especially given that the country is prone to earthquakes.

At the same time, every Jamaican should consider it their duty to inform themselves and their families about how to respond to disasters and make sure that they are prepared.

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