Local geologists studying the Haiti catastrophe say Kingston, Portmore and Spanish Town are among the most vulnerable areas should an earthquake the magnitude of the January 12 tremor or stronger hit Jamaica.
Research Fellow and Head of the Earthquake Unit, University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr. Lyndon Brown, said Kingston was probably in one of the worst locations and possibly at the greatest risk of soil liquefactions, which often occurs following a major earthquake event.
“Soil liquefaction is when the ground pretty much behaves like water. It behaves almost like liquid,” Dr. Brown explained as he addressed the Jamaica Fulbright-Humphrey Alumni Association (JFHAA) speaker series yesterday (Oct. 20) at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) Auditorium in New Kingston under the theme: ‘Earthquake Readiness and Lessons Learned’.
His disclosure was supported by Director General, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson, who also noted that many of Jamaica’s essential services, including hospitals, police stations and fire stations were located in earthquake hotbeds.
Fulbright Research Fellow, Consultant Psychiatrist and President of the Jamaica Fulbright-Humphrey Alumni Association (JFHAA), Dr. Loraine Barnaby (left) is in discourse with Research Fellow and Head of the Earthquake Unit, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Dr. Lyndon Brown; and Director General, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson during the Jamaica Fulbright-Humphrey Alumni Association (JFHAA), speaker series held at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) Auditorium in New Kingston on Wednesday (October 20).
“The truth of the matter is, much of our major settlements in Jamaica are vulnerable to the same kind of ground acceleration that perhaps we will see in Kingston,” he said. “Kingston, the Liguanea Plains, Spanish Town and Portmore are centres of high density and high population concentration,” he informed.
Mr. Jackson said that many of these areas were prone to intense soil movement in the event of an earthquake and pose great risk because of the density and high population levels. “Kingston is as dense as Haiti in terms of the number of persons per square mile and the number of buildings in Kingston in relation to Port-au-Prince,” he pointed out.
He noted that the eastern end of the island was most vulnerable to tsunamis after a major earthquake.
“When we talk about emergency shelters and tsunamis and trying to evacuate persons to safety, we realise that we are a very coastal population, a lot of our settlements are near coastal areas and a lot of the schools are located in coastal zones,” he said, noting that in Kingston and St. Andrew alone many of the emergency shelters were located in areas that would be highly vulnerable.
“A number of our critical infrastructure, certainly for transport and communication are located along the coastal areas.our hotels and roads are mostly coastal,” he said.
Mr. Jackson said it was therefore essential for Jamaicans to understand the country’s vulnerability to such disasters and for plans to be put in place for effective emergency response. He noted that while earthquake and search and rescue plans were in place, the attendant equipment and resources to make these mechanisms as effective as they should be were less than ideal.
Mr. Jackson said the country needed to look at its ability to conduct, not just light level search and rescue operations, but also medium and heavy rescue operations.
“Right now, in Jamaica, we do not have any certified heavy or medium rescue teams,” he noted. “In fact, we are just at the stage of establishing light level rescue.”
The ODPEM head remarked that after a major earthquake event, search and rescue becomes the priority. “Not water, not food, but saving lives within that first 72 hours. So we have to look at how we would deal with moving people, locating people, rescuing people and evacuating people after an event, and how many people would be found alive,” he stated.
He also warned that very little time is available once a tsunami warning is actually issued. “If a tsunami is generated off the coast of Cuba, you have roughly between 15 and 20 minutes to issue a warning, for people to receive that warning and to move to safe ground,” he said.
Mr. Jackson said it is therefore important that Jamaicans are educated and aware of the warning signs that a tsunami is likely to occur and to use that in order to activate their own emergency plans to move to higher ground.
The JFHAA speaker series is hosted in association with the Public Affairs Section (PAS) of the United States Embassy.
Fulbright Research Fellow, Consultant Psychiatrist and President of the JFHAA, Dr. Loraine Barnaby said that Wednesday’s panel discussion was aimed at increasing awareness among the general population, dispel prevailing myths, encourage individual responsibility for the protection of self, family and community, and for persons to obey warnings issued by the recognised agencies.
Fulbright Research Scholar, Acting Head, Science Branch Library and Coordinator, Caribbean Disaster Information Network at UWI, Mona, Beverley Lashley, also participated in the discussion.
The JFHAA has been having public lectures over the years in fulfillment of its mission, which is to contribute to national development by initiating and participating in activities that foster advancement in education and the development of a civil society.