Several stakeholders from various agencies and departments participated in a National Simulation Exercise (NaSIMEX 2012) programme, on January 26, aimed at assessing the readiness of the education sector in the event of a major earthquake.
The exercise was carried out within the context that a national emergency/crisis situation has been triggered by an earthquake of magnitude 7.1. It was done in a relatively relaxed and informal yet professional setting.
The event was organised by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).
Speaking at the simulation exercise at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston, Regional Co-ordinator South, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Camille Beckford-Palmer, said the exercise would educate the participants on the various strategies to be deployed to ensure that the children are protected after an earthquake occurs.
“We are all aware, earthquakes have certain effects on children, some of them may have never experienced an earthquake before. We have highly populated schools, we have schools where the structural capacity is not where it is supposed to be, so there are a lot of issues that need to be looked on with kids,” she said.
“Our national earthquake plans are not where they should be right now, the revision needs to take place and we are hoping that through these sessions, we will identify the gaps and know how to move forward to make these plans better and that the various ministries and agencies (will play their respective parts),” she added.
Senior Director, Mitigation Planning and Research, ODPEM, Karema Aikens-Mitchell, noted that a co-ordinated multi-agency response would be paramount in dealing with an earthquake of such magnitude. “No single agency provides the answer to solving the myriad of issues that would emerge after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake,” she argued.
The event was attended and supported by a wide cross section of agencies, including education interests, parish disaster co-ordinators, security personnel and firefighters.
Since the start of the year, ODPEM has been conducting a number of simulations and workshops, focused on crucial sectors and agencies, to examine their disaster response mechanisms. The aim is to assess plans, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and measure the effectiveness of response and recovery to major emergencies or disasters.
The programme is aimed at ensuring that emergency response personnel, government agencies and others are trained and ready to respond to emergencies.
The objectives are: to raise the level of awareness of the importance of earthquake preparedness at national, parish and community levels and understanding the likely challenges that will occur in the immediate post earthquake situation; to review plans and standard operating procedures of response agencies; and to improve the knowledge, skills and understanding of response personnel, particularly the search and rescue, medical and fire services, to the specific nuances of earthquake impacts.
Responders are also introduced to various techniques and equipment used in earthquake search and rescue; and the response levels of emergency personnel, including fire fighters are tested.
By Chris Patterson, JIS Reporter