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JIS News

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is renewing its call for schools, which do not have earthquake disaster preparedness plans, to put one in place as soon as possible. These plans should include steps to deal with injuries and how the school will take care of children in case their parents are unable to collect them as a result of delays associated with an earthquake. In addition, it is proposed that schools should look at providing for children for an extended period in the post earthquake scenario.
Nadine Newsome, Director of Information and Training at ODPEM, told JIS News that a day has been set-aside during Earthquake Awareness Week from January 8 to 13, to draw attention to the need for schools to be prepared in the event of an earthquake.
The need for this type of preparation became apparent after the mass panic that occurred after the January 1993 quake, where there were several reports of children jumping from buildings and injuring themselves, teachers running from their classrooms leaving bewildered students behind and some students being released onto the streets to make their way home. It was also reported that concerned parents rushed out to locate their children, causing a traffic pile up especially in the corporate area.
This year, the Earthquake Awareness Day in School will be observed on January 12 and schools are being asked to implement procedures to ensure that students and staff are prepared.
“They should put in place procedures and practice procedures for responding to earthquakes, that is, outlining a course of action should an earthquake occur,” Ms. Newsome said.
Students and teachers, she said, should know where to evacuate, the assembly points, and where parents should collect their children after the earthquake. For schools having these plans in place, the day can be used to assess the weaknesses of the plans.
Plans and findings should be discussed at parent teachers meetings. “Parents should know exactly what plans the schools have in place should an earthquake occur during school time,” Ms. Newsome said, adding that, “everyone should also know about his or her role within the plan and this should be stressed regularly”.
As for drills, she recommended that they be conducted twice per term. The drills should include practising the “duck and cover” method, which simply means going under a desk or table during an earthquake.
Corporate entities are also being urged to follow suit and create earthquake disaster preparedness plans, as the ODPEM will target them on Earthquake Awareness Day for Business on January 11.
Ms. Newsome informed that on that day, business entities would be asked to implement some form of earthquake-related activity to educate their staff members. “Businesses must inspect and review their earthquake disaster preparedness plans because it is important for staff members to be aware of the steps that they should take should an earthquake occur,” she stressed.
She also recommended that businesses practise drills every quarter so as to be adequately prepared for an earthquake.
After the 1993 earthquake, the ODPEM commenced a public education programme focusing on schools and corporate Jamaica. This is still ongoing and the organization has a monthly schedule where visits are made to businesses, schools, community groups and churches. “We will take them through drills and guide them through emergency plans and also review these plans and work with them during earthquake simulation practices and drills,” Ms. Newsome informed.
ODPEM is the national agency responsible for taking action to reduce the effects of disasters and emergencies on the population, in addition to coordinating warning, emergency responses and relief operations in major emergency events. The organization was established in July 1980.