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The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, (ODPEM) is encouraging businesspersons in major urban centres to take a proactive approach to earthquake preparedness and identify open spaces for staff to assemble in the aftermath of an earthquake.
“What we really want to encourage the businesses to do is to look around their community and to see where they could identify as a relatively safe location, bearing in mind that people are going to be proceeding there on foot,” said Acting Director General of the ODPEM, Ronald Jackson.
This advice comes within the context of an islandwide simulation exercise to be held tomorrow (Jan.31), to mark the centenary observance of the 1907 earthquake, which destroyed parts of Kingston and Port Royal.
The ODPEM recommends that during an earthquake, persons in buildings should duck, hold and cover underneath a desk or table, or to stand in a doorjamb. After the tremor ends, swift evacuation of the building should follow, creating the need for safe assembly points outside of buildings.
Mr. Jackson said that open areas away from high-rise buildings would be an ideal assembly point, but noted that, “if you look at the New Kingston area and some areas downtown where you have the high rise buildings, a lot of the possible assembly points are right in the midst of two towering structures.”
This, he said, created a concern about what could occur if such buildings should crumble. Mr. Jackson therefore recommended that businesses and offices without safe assembly points on their premises, to make arrangements with neighbours for the safety of employees in the aftermath of an earthquake.
Endorsing Mr. Jackson’s statements, ODPEM’s Director of Preparedness, Omar Afflick, pointed out that one of the weaknesses in the preparedness plans observed in the New Kingston earthquake drill on June 7 last year, was the lack of safe, open spaces.
“There is need to consider more open spaces in future developments of urban centres,” disclosed Mr. Afflick, adding that “both in the corporate area and major urban centres like downtown Kingston and New Kingston, open spaces are very limited.”
Mr. Afflick pinpointed the management of traffic as another area that would require improvement based on the findings coming out of the New Kingston earthquake drill.
Tomorrow’s simulation will test the mettle of the Earthquake Management Plan on a wider scale and inform future improvements and modifications. The exercise, which will see the activation of the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) at ODPEM and at the parish level, will include search and rescue activities and the simulated handling of mass casualties.
In Kingston, participating entities include the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Stadium East marathon tunnel and offices downtown. Incident sites in rural areas include Port Antonio High School and the Jamaica Public Service Company parish office in Portland; Brown’s Town Community College’s campus in St. Ann’s Bay; Manning’s High School, Westmoreland; Northern Caribbean University in Manchester; and Ebony Park HEART Academy, Clarendon.