Gov’t Looking at Regional Tsunami Warning System

Land and Environment Minister, Dean Peart today (Dec. 29) convened a meeting with technical officials within the Ministry and its affiliate agencies to discuss the establishment of a tsunami warning system for the Caribbean.
The meeting comes against the overwhelming loss of lives, estimated to be over 70,000 and damage to infrastructure in South Asia as a result of the devastating tsunami on Sunday.
Among agencies represented at the meeting were the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) and the National Meteorological Office.
Speaking to JIS News after the meeting, Minister Peart said he had requested that his technical officers “look at the possibility of having meetings with their counterparts in the Caribbean, ” to arrive at a consensus on the approach Caribbean states could take to avoid a similar tragedy, should a tsunami of the same magnitude occur within Caribbean waters.
The Land and Environment Minister, who is due to attend the ‘World Conference on Disaster Reduction’ scheduled for Kobe, Japan in January, rationalised that the meeting of the minds of technical persons from the region, would make him more informed and better prepared for the conference. He is expected to advocate for the establishment of a global disaster fund at the meeting.
Meanwhile, Seismologist and Head of the Earthquake Unit on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr. Margaret Wiggins-Grandison, explained that the tsunami occurred “in the Indian ocean due to a very large thrust-faulting event at a plate boundary.”
“This is where the Indian plate is diving underneath the Burmese plate and those thrust earthquakes are known to be the very largest earthquakes in the world. All of the magnitude nine events that we know of have been thrust earthquakes. What happened is that there was a vertical displacement of the sea floor and according to estimates, the area of the sea floor that was displaced covered about 12,000 square kilometres with an average displacement of about 15 metres. When the sea floor is pushed up, it mobilises the entire column of water, which may be 5,000 or 6,000 metres deep and that energy from the earthquake is imparted into the sea water and this spreads out in what we know as a tsunami,” Dr. Wiggins-Grandison pointed out.
She said that faulting was very common around the Pacific continental margins or island margins, as the general vicinity was home to thrust-faulting and oceanic trenches, which produced earthquakes on a regular basis.
The Caribbean, she indicated, was dissimilar to the Indian Ocean, in that “the Atlantic ocean of which the Caribbean is a part, has passive continental margins. Our continental margins are not producing those kinds of earthquakes except in two places. We have the southern margin of the Mediterranean and we have the Eastern and Western margins of the Caribbean that can generate thrust earthquakes.”
Jamaica, she said, was safe as it was located within a basin, which protected the island somewhat from destructive wave activity.
Speaking to warming systems, Director General of the ODPEM, Dr. Barbara Carby, told JIS News that the ODPEM had a coastal flooding awareness programme in place, where it targeted coastal communities and made them aware of the threats of tsunamis and storm surges.
According to Dr. Carby, the ODPEM would renew its focus to the coastal flooding awareness programme given the nature of current events.
“We had printed fliers sometime ago so we will be reprinting them and giving the population of Jamaica on the tsunami hazard and what precautions can be taken to protect life and property,” she informed. She advised that, “there were reports of tsunamis being generated after the 1907 and 1692 earthquakes, although those were not of the extent that has been experienced in the Indian ocean. However, we should realise that a wave of even one metre can affect property and cause the loss of life.”
Indicating the safety measures that persons could take in the event of a tsunami, Dr. Carby said, “the major sign that a tsunami is evident is when the sea suddenly withdraws from the land and returns as a wave so if you are in a coastal area and see the sea withdrawing from the land suddenly, sometimes even fish are stranded on the sea floor, then you need to get inland and to high ground immediately.” “One should not do what some persons have done in the past, that is to say, you going to see what is happening,” she cautioned.
Dr. Carby noted that tsunamis were secondary hazards of earthquakes, and remained that earthquakes had no particular season and could occur at anytime, hence persons should always be prepared.

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