Preparedness can save lives

Friday, August 24, 2018

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The magnitude 7.3 earthquake experienced by several Caribbean territories and Venezuela on Tuesday serves as a reminder that we need to keep strengthening our ability to respond to natural disasters.

Luckily, so far, there have been no reports of fatalities or injuries resulting from the earthquake and its aftershocks, one of which was measured at 5.9 on Wednesday.

Thankfully, as well, the region was not faced with a tsunami threat, as was the case in January this year when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck off the coast of Honduras, shaking the mainland and setting off tsunami warnings for countries in the Caribbean and Central America.

Although the tsunami advisories were cancelled an hour later, there was considerable anxiety, especially here in Jamaica where it is generally acknowledged that a damaging earthquake can occur at any time. That is why it is extremely important that the State, and indeed every Jamaican, consider it their duty to be prepared to respond to disasters.

We note that as part of efforts to achieve that ideal, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) is implementing a Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project.

This initiative is funded by the Government through a US$30-million loan from the World Bank. Essentially it is working at making infrastructure developments more resilient by improving the capacity of government institutions to generate and use hazard and risk information to inform national planning. It will also focus on increasing awareness about disaster-risk reduction, building resilience, and emergency management.

The project, which started in 2016 and will run through to 2022, also includes the development of a National Risk Information Platform, which, we are told, will allow all risk data to be located and updated in a centralised platform available to government agencies and the public.

In March this year, the State news agency, Jamaica Information Service , reported that under the project, JSIF has provided well-needed equipment to the Earthquake Unit at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, which will strengthen its ability to monitor and respond to seismic activity.

The equipment, JIS told us, include 10 digital seismometer systems that provide data on an earthquake's magnitude, depth and epicentre; 30 accelerographs to be placed at seismic stations, hospitals and schools to measure the horizontal force acting on a building; and 72 Ethernet radios with antennae, which will transmit data in real time from seismic stations to the Central Recording Station at The UWI.

The unit should also receive software, computer server and network-attached storage, in addition to laboratory equipment such as portable oscilloscope, spectrum analyser and multiplexer.

In addition, the project will develop human-capacity building in the area of seismology, where a junior research fellow at The UWI, Mona, will earn a scholarship to pursue a doctorate in seismology. Upon completion, the student will be employed as a seismologist within the UWI Earthquake Unit.

All that is highly commendable, especially for the fact that some years ago we appealed in this space for urgent attention to be given to properly equipping the Earthquake Unit.

At the same time, we again commend the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management for the work it has been doing in the area of informing and educating Jamaicans how to respond to forces of nature.

As we have often argued, the country cannot be too prepared for these eventualities. Preparedness can save lives.

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