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Earthquake Unit's ability to monitor seismic activity boosted

BY JAVENE SKYERS
Observer staff reporter
skyersj@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, June 19, 2017

Under the Jamaica Social Investment Fund's (JSIF) new Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (DVRP), The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus' Earthquake Unit will see significant improvements in their ability to monitor and respond to seismic activity through the provision of equipment and technical support valued at $104 million.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between UWI, Mona Campus and JSIF last Tuesday at the university in Kingston, where it was highlighted that the overall development objective of the project was to enhance the country's resilience to disaster and climate risk.

The project, which is being proposed for six years, is intended to support the Government of Jamaica in sustainable disaster risk management. Activities will include the improvement of critical facilities, such as fire stations, development of spatial planning tools, training programme to support the implementation of the National Building Code, among other wider initiatives.

The UWI's Earthquake Unit is one of the first recipients under the project, which is being funded by a World Bank loan of US$30 million.

“This upgrade will see 10 digital seismometer systems, which give data on the earthquake's magnitude, depth and epicentre, to be placed at seismic stations across the island, seismic vaults or piers constructed at six station sites… 25 accelerographs, which measure the horizontal force acting on a building, not only to be placed at seismic stations but also at hospitals, schools, bridges and other critical infrastructure,” managing director of JSIF Omar Sweeney said.

He added that under the project, Ethernet radios will be provided for the seismic stations still using an analogue system, and that there will be the construction of a new, fully equipped seismic station, which will close the gap between Munro College in St Elizabeth and the Negril seismograph stations in the western part of the island, resulting in full island coverage.

This, Sweeney noted, will all be supported by solar panel systems, which will also be provided for seismic stations currently dependent on the Jamaica Public Service to enable them to have their own autonomous power source.

“Finally, in an effort to address Jamaica's limited human capacity in the field of seismology, the project will fund a junior research fellow who will read for a PhD degree in seismology over a three-year period, and upon completion, will be employed as a seismologist in the unit,” the managing director stated.

Sweeney said that JSIF endeavoured to encapsulate the gaps that the Earthquake Unit identified and expressed his hope that the project will help to better serve Jamaica in the field of seismology.

Meanwhile, pro-vice chancellor and principal of UWI, Mona, Professor Archibald McDonald, in stating that he was “blown away” when he first heard about the project, said he believed that it was extremely important as Jamaica's location, geography and geology increases its risk for natural disasters.

He said that the recent rains has cost the country greatly in an effort to return to normality, while stating that, despite mounting bids on disaster recovery efforts, there is still no serious and sustained effort to curb the unplanned building and settlement in areas not earmarked for such development.

McDonald said he hopes to see greater levels of enforcement and demonstrated political will as this problem, if left unchecked, will result in certain consequences for the country in years to come.

He noted that while one cannot, “broadly speaking”, prevent a natural disaster, the project is a major step in the right direction.

“The partnership between the Jamaica Social Investment Fund and The University of the West Indies, Mona will result in significant improvements in the capacity of Jamaica to monitor and respond to seismic activity… This project will strengthen our collective capacity in many ways, especially in the areas of data collection [and] energy resilience,” McDonald said.

Meanwhile, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, Denzil Thorpe, expressed similar sentiments as he too stated that the partnership will improve efforts relating to seismic activity. He added that he was pleased with the emphasis placed on seismology as oftentimes when people think about disaster, hurricanes and fires come to mind.

Thorpe conveyed the ministry's support for the project, while stating that it will also provide assistance with the development of the building code in terms of helping to identify where to build in the future.