JIS News

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has warned that Jamaica was not adequately prepared for a major earthquake.Speaking at an Earthquake Awareness Week panel discussion at the Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston, yesterday (January 10), Director General of the ODPEM, Dr. Barbara Carby said, “we do not do enough systemic vulnerability analysis programmes. We are not prepared for a major earthquake in Jamaica”.
The week of January 9 to 15 is being observed as Earthquake Awareness Week with the theme: ‘Earthquake Threats: How prepared are we?’ According to Dr. Carby, Jamaicans needed more simulation exercises to prepare for a major earthquake, as various sections of the society are unprepared, including the health sector. “Hospitals may be unable to cope due to lack of blood supply along with insufficient equipment and supplies,” Dr. Carby said.
The Director General said there might be a large number of shelters in the event of a major earthquake, but noted that these structures were not built with them being considered places of shelter in the event of disasters.
She also noted that another major problem could be the supply of water during a disaster. “Homes may have tanks but these tanks may not be sturdy and could topple during an earthquake,” she said.
Dr. Carby explained that although earthquakes were usually localized, major reservoirs could be severely affected based on their location. “Earthquakes are by and large localized, which is good news, as if an earthquake occurs in the east, most of the damage will be in the east.
However, most our major water storage is located in Kingston and St. Andrew, particularly in Kingston and they are close and we could lose both depending on the epicentre of the earthquake,” she pointed out.
She further noted that as was apparent during Hurricane Ivan, there was the absence of a reliable water delivery service after a major disaster. “Some 99 per cent of the NWC’s facilities depend on power and if there is no power, there is no water. Trying to truck water, even just to urban areas of Kingston, the NWC does not deliver enough water. Provisional potable water is going to be a serious problem after a major earthquake, if we do not address this situation immediately,” the Director General said.
Dr. Carby also spoke of the possible inability of the fire service to operate as the major search and rescue system after a major earthquake. She said this inability made it necessary for the general population to be taught search and rescue techniques.
“The fire service under normal circumstances faces serious problems of material, equipment constraints and training. They will need considerable support after a major earthquake. Training of the population in search and rescue will ease the pressure on the fire service,” she added.
Damage assessment after a major earthquake was also extremely critical, due to the possible effects of aftershocks. “If it is not done quickly and right, people could go back into structures which could collapse due to aftershocks,”Dr. Carby emphasized.
The poor condition of emergency facilities, lack of public participation in ODPEM’s public awareness programmes on earthquakes and tsunamis, and the fact that these were not taken seriously were highlighted as serious concerns. “This has to stop,” the Director General said.

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