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Head of the Earthquake Unit and Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Dr. Lyndon Brown, wants Jamaicans to be aware of their surroundings and how to respond to earthquakes.
Dr. Brown was speaking at a JIS Think Tank in Kingston on Wednesday (January 6), as the nation observes Earthquake Awareness Month in January, the month in which Jamaica’s last two powerful earthquakes occurred, in 1907 and 1993, and Earthquake Awareness Week, January 9-16.
“You have to be aware of where you live and how to respond to an earthquake. There are a number of things that you should be conscious of. There are a number of universally accepted steps that you should be aware of. When an earthquake happens, find somewhere solid where you can shelter – a chair, table or a door jamb – then ‘drop, cover and hold’,” Dr. Brown explained.
He said the most severe damage sometimes occur from debris or items falling from walls, which is why it is advised that people who are inside should take shelter under a solid object that can withstand the force of falling objects.
And while he reiterated the dangers of an earthquake, he said Jamaican buildings are usually sturdily built and can generally withstand the force of a tremor. However, he said, there is real danger of falling debris and unanchored furniture endangering the occupants of buildings.
Dr. Brown also warned of the possibility of earthquake-generated tsunamis hitting Jamaica, but noted that, historically, these incidences have been low.
“Based on research, the likelihood of Jamaica experiencing a tsunami is one in 150 years, as against what happens in the eastern Caribbean where the likelihood is about one in 40 years, while in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico it is about one in 14 years,” he said.
He added that research is now being done in the Kingston Harbour, from where a tsunami generated by the Port Royal earthquake rose to destroy much of Port Royal in 1692.
Senior Director of Mitigation in the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management’s (ODPEM) Research Department, Michelle Edwards, however said that it is also important to take a look at Jamaica’s vulnerability to tsunamis.
“In our observation of earthquake awareness, it is important for us to also be concerned about the tsunami hazard,” she said, pointing out that tsunamis are generated by earthquakes, or undersea landslides.
She wants Jamaicans to realise that when an earthquake occurs, there is always the risk of a tsunami and there is a need to move to higher ground quickly, in case a tsunami follows. According to both presenters, a tsunami can move with speeds of 400 to 600 miles per hour, hence the need for swift reaction.
ODPEM will celebrate Earthquake Awareness Week under the theme, ‘Learn, Plan, Prepare.the next big quake could be near!’ The organisation has planned a number of activities to increase pubic awareness of the importance of preparing for an earthquake. The celebration begins with a Church Service on Saturday (January 9) at the Andrews Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church, Hope Road, Kingston 10, starting at 11:00 a.m.

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