JIS News

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is again focusing the nation’s attention on preparing for an earthquake during Earthquake Awareness Week, to be observed from January 13 to 19.
Speaking on January 9 at a JIS ‘Think Tank’ in Kingston, ODPEM Director General, Ronald Jackson said that, “it is the earthquake phenomenon, with its attendant sub-hazards that pose the greatest risk.” It registers the greatest single natural hazard event in terms of losses to life, property and the economy in general, he added.
This year’s theme is: ‘For safety’s sake, be ready for the next earthquake’, as the ODPEM stresses the importance of putting in place a disaster and risk reduction plan looking at preparedness and safety procedures before the event happens.
Mr. Jackson pointed out that earthquakes have been a significant hazard throughout the historical development of many countries in the Caribbean, and in recent years there has been a marked increase in seismic activity regionally and globally.
Citing Jamaica’s high earthquake risk profile, the Director General said that on February 4, 2007, “the country experienced a tremor recorded here by our seismograph at 5.4 in magnitude, resulting from an event which occurred 75 miles north, north west of Montego Bay with an actual magnitude of 6.1”.
“Interestingly, it was said that scientists held dialogue around the possibility of an event measuring 6.5 in magnitude just offshore the south coast of Cuba generating a tsunami,” he added.
Recalling the earth tremor Jamaica experienced in 1993, Mr. Jackson pointed out that, “as we seek to begin the observance of Earthquake Awareness Week on January 13, we will be doing so on the anniversary of the 1993 event, which displaced 518 families and generated $152 million in insurance claims.”
In the meantime, Chief Medical Officer of the Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department, Dr. Herb Elliot, said that the Ministry of Health “continues to examine ways to improve the health system to respond to crisis situations, placing greater emphasis on community response rather than hospital response in situations like earthquakes that would have a greater impact at that level.”
Dr. Elliot explained that the essential goal in mass casualty situations is to save as many lives as possible, and the equipment used is more basic than would be used in the hospital as elaborate equipment cannot be taken out in the field.
With over 38 health clinics in communities in Kingston and St. Andrew alone, Dr. Elliott noted that the cadre of staff at these clinics and those across the island, supplemented hospital services and could take a lot of pressure off hospitals in case of a disaster.
The plans for Earthquake Awareness Week 2008 were outlined by the Director of Information and Training at ODPEM, Kretchet Douglas Greaves. These include earthquake drills and presentations as well as expositions in communities islandwide. The activities are to be conducted in conjunction with the Parish Councils, the Ministry of Education and the Jamaica Library Service, as well as businesses, civic and community-based organizations.
The Week will commence with a Church Service at the St. Andrew Parish Church, which was chosen to highlight the fact that it has existed since 1655 and has therefore survived numerous major national catastrophic earthquakes and other events.

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