Opinion: Contingency planning

POSTED: 04/15/14 11:33 PM

Dear Editor,

 

The timing of the 26 March Unesco Caribe Wave/Lantex 2014 third earthquake/tsunami exercise was held a week before Chile’s 8.2 earthquake that triggered a six foot tsunami.  24 hours later a 7.6 magnitude earthquake was reported.  The first earthquake/tsunami left six people dead, destroyed 2,600 houses and led to mass evacuations of coastal areas.  Nearly one million people were evacuated across Chile after a tsunami warning was issued.

In 1960 an area of Chile was hit by a 9.5 magnitude quake which caused over 1600 deaths and a tsunami that travelled across the Pacific Ocean all the way to Hawaii and Japan.

Country Sint Maarten is also at risk for a tsunami caused by an earthquake or underwater volcanic eruption, and hence, the country should be prepared for such an eventuality including the continuity of governance in such a natural disaster event which could even be worse than the 1995 hurricane Luis.

Training exercises are very important and at the same time, preparing the nation for such an eventuality.  Today’s thinking is not when it will happen, it’s how prepared are we?  Are we planning for such an eventuality?

The level of participation in the tsunami warning exercise on March 26 in the Caribbean was unprecedented compared with similar exercises in 2011 and 2013.  It reflects the commitment of the countries concerned and a growing awareness of the tsunami threat in the region.

A total of 31 Member States (UNESCO) and 16 of the territories in the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions participated.  In addition, 230,000 people participated in the test, a 75 per cent increase compared to 2011 and 300 per cent more than in 2013.

Two scenarios were developed for the exercise this year.  The first simulated a tsunami generated by an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.5 on the Richter scale originating 270 km in the South West of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean.  This scenario was modeled after an actual earthquake and tsunami that occurred on 1 November 1755.  This tsunami devastated Lisbon, Portugal and also affected the coasts of Spain, North Africa, and the Caribbean.  It took nine hours for the tsunami to reach the Caribbean (Antigua).

The second scenario simulated a tsunami generated by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.6 which triggered a submarine landslide in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to UNCESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, the success of this year’s tsunami warning exercise demonstrates the maturity of the Tsunami Early Warning System implemented in the region in 2005, adding that cooperation between States and specialized institutions, and the preparation of local populations is crucial, to address tsunami-related risks, mitigate their impact and save lives.

The goal of CARIBE WAVE/LANTEX 2014 third earthquake/tsunami exercise was to test the readiness of the countries in the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions to respond to a distant tsunami.  Over the last 500 years, 75 tsunamis have occurred in the Caribbean and this figure represents about 10 per cent of the entire number of oceanic tsunamis in the world during that period.  More than 3,500 people were killed in the region since the mid-19th century.

Contingency planning is a component of a much broader emergency preparedness process that includes items such as business practices, operational continuity, and disaster recovery planning.  Preparing for such an event often involves implementing policies and processes at an organizational level and may require numerous plans to properly prepare for, respond to, recover from, and continue activities if impacted by an event.

As part of a comprehensive risk management approach, contingency planning would identify potential vulnerabilities and threats and then implement approaches to deal with the potential impact.  Contingency plans must also be maintained as living documents requiring regular updates to reflect changes based on socio-economic-national development factors.

The existence and sustainability of the country is at stake and every resident and business has a stake in the aforementioned, hence why country contingency planning is so important.

 

Roddy Heyliger

 

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