JIS News

New Kingston, the business hub of the nation’s capital, will undertake special preparations for an earthquake, when the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in collaboration with private sector entities, conducts an earthquake drill on June 7.
The drill will coincide with the anniversary of the 1692 earthquake that destroyed Port Royal then dubbed: “the wickedest city in the world” where more than 2000 lives were lost.
Director General of ODPEM, Dr. Barbara Carby, speaking at a press conference held yesterday (Jan.10) at the agency’s South Camp Road headquarters, said that the goal was to allow the business community to plan for earthquakes and for the ODPEM to develop a strategy for the safe evacuation of the New Kingston population.
She noted that drills held previously, had revealed a lack of adequate “safe” space for the assembly of evacuated persons, problems with traffic management and coordinating multiple floor evacuations on buildings occupied by several tenants, as well as the management of the “visiting population” in these buildings.
There was also concern about the rescue of persons from structures over six to seven storeys high and the evacuation of persons with disabilities.
“We will document our drill and that will form the basis of what will be done in New Kingston in the future – whether for drills or real earthquakes. It will also allow the organisations in New Kingston to develop and refine their earthquake drills and their evacuation procedures,” Dr. Carby noted.
While ODPEM will be the lead agency in the process, other partners included government agencies; the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, with Jamaica Property Company leading the way as they manage most of the buildings in New Kingston; the New Kingston Civic Committee and individual businesses.
All partners will sit on a planning committee established to oversee the drill. This committee, Dr. Carby explained, would be divided into several working groups, each of which would be responsible for a particular aspect of the drill. These are: assembly points and routes; traffic management; drill management, monitoring and implementation; public education; communications; internal management in businesses; budget/funding and support/administration; and welfare.
The Director General said she hoped that most of the New Kingston community would participate in the drill, although she acknowledged that the wish was not practical. “There are economic implications if you are going to empty an entire building for evacuation – security for one. There are also implications for persons meeting deadlines for their businesses,” she pointed out.
However, she argued that if persons took risk management in account, then they would see that whatever it cost to prepare and for mitigation purposes, they would actually recover the costs in the event that there was an incident. “The spin off effects far outweigh the economic costs,” she noted.
It is anticipated that the drill will start in the mid-morning so as not to create massive disruption, but would at the same time, be effective. “It won’t last for more than two hours,” the Director General predicted.
Outlining the areas to be covered in New Kingston, Dr. Carby said the drill would entail entities on Trafalgar Road to the north; Pawsey Road to the east; Oxford Road to the south and the western boundary by Holborn Road.
In terms of expected outcomes, Dr. Carby said the intent was to have all evacuation routes rationalised, identified and mapped, “so we will have a map of New Kingston and on that map, each evacuation route for each business will be identified including the sense of movement on the route”. In addition, all assembly areas would be identified and mapped and the staff of different businesses trained.She also anticipated that the group involved in planning and executing the drill, would be available for all aspects of hazard management in New Kingston.
“You will appreciate that the networking that will take place will be very important for ourselves [ODPEM] as well as the New Kingston community. I am really hoping that coming out of this exercise the New Kingston civic community will be able to keep the group together and be able in the future to do fire and evacuation drills for buildings,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Carby said that there was need to have similar drills in all of the island’s urban centres and “if this drill goes well, other cities and towns will be encouraged to carry out drills”.
The projected cost of the New Kingston earthquake drill is $150,000.

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