Major Focus on Earthquake Preparedness

Photo: JIS Photographer Minister of Local Government and Community Development, Hon. Noel Arscott (right), in discussion with (from left): Chief Planner at the Urban Development Corporation, Ronald Brown; Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Richard Thompson; and Scientific Officer at the Earthquake Unit, University of the West Indies, Mona, Karleen Black. Occasion was the press conference and launch of Earthquake Awareness Week 2014, at the Haining Road headquarters of the ODPEM, on January 13.

Story Highlights

  • The Ministry of Local Government and the ODPEM launched Earthquake Awareness week, on Monday, January 13, at the agency’s New Kingston headquarters.
  • The Minister and the stakeholders stressed that Jamaicans need to be prepared for an earthquake.
  • The Minister said the occurrence of strong earthquakes in Jamaica is a “very real, and present possibility”.

The Ministry of Local Government, through the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), continues to sustain and ramp up earthquake preparedness activities, in collaboration with local and international partners.

As part of these events, the Ministry and the ODPEM launched Earthquake Awareness week, on Monday, January 13, at the agency’s New Kingston headquarters.

Local Government and Community Development Minister, Hon. Noel Arscott, and ODPEM Director General, Richard Thompson, along with other key stakeholders emphasized the significance of seismic activities in the region, which coincided with three earthquakes occurring in Puerto Rico on January 13, the most powerful measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale.

These came on the fourth anniversary of the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude quake, which devastated Haiti.

The Minister and the stakeholders stressed that Jamaicans need to be prepared for an earthquake, for which experts say the country is “due” having had its last significant quake 20 years ago.

Mr. Arscott said the Ministry and ODPEM always reminded the nation about this natural disaster at the start of each year, because the strongest earthquake experienced in Jamaica, occurred in the month of January. The 6.0 quake, which severely affected Kingston in 1907, was followed by four days of fires.

He noted that, 50 years later, another major earthquake affected Jamaica, severely impacting the western end of the island, as well as Port Royal, in East Kingston.

The Minister said the occurrence of strong earthquakes in Jamaica is a “very real, and present possibility” and emphasised that experts agree that the country could experience an earthquake of magnitude 7.0, or greater.

He added that should an earthquake of the magnitude of the 1907 event affect Jamaica, the economic fallout is estimated at $6.5 billion.

Mr. Arscott pointed out that because earthquakes give no warning, citizens and the country as a whole, must be prepared. This preparation, he said, should include the proper construction of houses and infrastructure.

Mr. Arscott informed that the Building Act, which forms part of overall measures to mitigate against major earthquakes, will be passed in March.

“This will make it mandatory for the construction industry to use the building code in all construction activities. It has long been noted that buildings, which have the full involvement of engineers in their design and construction, withstand the impact of an earthquake much better,” the Minister asserted.

Meanwhile, the ODPEM Director General said since the 2012 national simulation exercise (NaSimex), which focused on earthquake hazards, and presented several questions and lessons learnt, the agency has made a conscious effort to assess the seismic vulnerability of the country’s critical facilities, using the rapid visual screening (RVS) methodology.

This methodology was developed by the United States’ Federal Emergency Management (FEMA), and explored vulnerability assessment based on a sidewalk survey of buildings by trained evaluators.

Mr. Thompson informed that the RVS of 77 critical facilities, including police stations, fire stations and health centres was completed for Kingston and St. Andrew, which has 24 per cent of the island’s population.  More than 60 per cent of these facilities failed the RVS, he noted.

“These facilities are not expected to produce adequate seismic performance in the event of the maximum considered earthquake, and therefore require further assessment,” he stated.

The Director General assured that the ODPEM continues to work closely with partner agencies to strengthen Jamaica’s readiness.

Earthquake awareness week is being observed from January 12-18 under the theme: ‘Earthquake Awareness: Know your Vulnerability, to improve capacity’.

The line-up of activities include: an all island church service, which was held on January 12; an earthquake awareness week 2014 supplement in both national newspapers on Tuesday, January 14; earthquake awareness day in schools on January 15; earthquake awareness day for businesses on January 16; ODPEM open day on Thursday, January 17; and the sharing of earthquake awareness messages in churches.

The ODPEM open day, which will be held at its Haining Road offices in Kingston, will feature a media marathon; exhibition of the ODPEM and partner agency services; and tour of the offices.

JIS Social