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JIS News

More than a year since the world watched in disbelief as a series of lethal tsunamis struck South and South East Asia, killing thousands, Jamaica is going ahead with plans for the construction of a seismograph station in Manchester.
The station, which will act as a warning system, should a tsunami ever occur off the island’s coasts, is to be erected based on a letter of intent that was signed between the Governments of Jamaica and the United States on January 9. Philbert Brown, Senior Director of Emergency Management and Weather Services at the Ministry of Local Government and Environment, informs JIS News that work on the station could begin as soon as July. Mr. Brown notes however, that commencement of the work is dependent on how long it takes for logistical and governmental arrangements to be finalised between the two countries.
Following the signing of the letter of intent, a draft version of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was proposed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), has to be vetted by a number of state bodies to ascertain their views on the conditions outlined by the US in the MoU.
“Essentially it involves the proposal being reviewed, [after which] some type of counter proposals for amendments were put forward,” Mr. Brown explains. He adds that “agreements on all these amendments would then lead to a submission being made to the Cabinet that would authorise the Ministry [of Environment] in this case to sign on behalf of the Government of Jamaica”.
The Attorney General was a key figure among those reviewing the proposed MoU, and Mr. Brown says upon his examination, Senator A.J. Nicholson, who is also Minister of Justice, had pointed out that “the document as it was proposed had in it a number of terms and references that caused the document to look more like a treaty than a Memorandum of Understanding and based on that, we had to send these comments to the United States’ government for them to look at them and make some counter proposal”.
Other state bodies and organisations required to peruse and re-evaluate the MoU include the Ministry of Finance and Planning, on the basis that exemptions in duties and taxes were being called for, in regards to equipment to be shipped into the island from the US for the station. The Finance Ministry’s interest also involves the Customs Department, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), as the station is to be built at a site in Mount Denham, Manchester, which is owned by the CAA.
“At this point,” the Senior Director says, “we are at the stage where we have submitted all these comments to the United States embassy and they will respond in a few days from now, and we will then be able to make some final agreement.”
When built, the Jamaican seismograph station will be among nine stations in the region that will complement an existing network of such stations known as the Global Seismograph Network. Participating Caribbean countries include Antigua, Barbados, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Asked how Jamaica stands to benefit from becoming a part of the Seismograph Network, Mr. Brown says that there are two major advantages. Pointing to the first, he says, the network should “provide Jamaica with access, maintenance and data from a highly modern seismograph station that affords cutting edge technology as it now exists”.
“Jamaica will benefit from its presence,” he continues, “in terms of the data transmission and in terms of the use of the system since Jamaica will have access to all the data that the system will generate.”
As for the other advantage, he explains that “the station will be part of a Caribbean network of stations which will be able to provide warning in the event of a ‘tsunami-genic’, that is an earthquake that has the capacity to generate a tsunami, [so] Jamaica will benefit from being part of that network, and will also benefit from a warning that could be provided.”
He points out that in establishing a tsunami warning system, the equipment that is utilised will be able to quickly detect strong earthquakes that are capable of generating a tsunami. Such equipment, he stresses, has to be interlinked by various means in order for a network to be in good working order.
“The proposed methodology here is to link these pieces of equipment by satellite and if and when an earthquake of the type of magnitude that might generate a tsunami occurs, these instruments would sense and measure that earthquake and transmit the information to a central processing location – in the United States Geological Society,” Mr. Brown explains.
The USGS, in turn, would send out a notice on the same channels to local areas that might be affected by that tsunami-generated earthquake.
“In our case here,” Mr. Brown informs, “the Earthquake Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus would be the main agency that would be linked both to the local site and to the US site for receipt and transmission of messages.”
Acknowledging the delay that has caused the original April start date to be postponed, Mr. Brown says “we have done most of the due diligence and consultations with the Ministries and have sent this information off to the US Embassy, they will have to send it to their legal persons in Washington for them to comment and if everything goes well from there, we may be able to sign the MoU by the end of this month.”
“Once the MoU is signed, the US stands ready to ship the equipment to us and once the pieces of equipment are here, we can begin construction. If everything goes well and we have Cabinet’s approval and signing by the end of this month, the equipment might take another two to three weeks to get here, so by the end of July, we might be able to begin,” he asserts.
Personnel from the Engineering Unit of the Jamaica Defence Force as well as technical resource personnel from the United States will be involved in the construction of the seismograph station.
The December 2004 Indian Ocean undersea earthquake triggered a series of deadly tsunamis that spread throughout the Indian Ocean, killing large numbers of people and devastating coastal communities across South and South East Asia, including parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and elsewhere.
The magnitude of the earthquake was between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter scale and it is the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. The catastrophe, now widely known as the Asian Tsunami, remains one of the deadliest disasters in modern history.