Region-wide Tsunami Warning Exercise on Wednesday

POSTED: 03/22/11 12:25 PM

St. Maarten – Thirty three countries across the Caribbean, St. Maarten included will participate in a region wide earthquake/tsunami exercise on Wednesday. Coordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) the exercise will be based on the fictitious occurrence of an earthquake near the U.S. Virgin Islands that has a 7.6 magnitude on the Richter scale.

According to the scenario countries in the Caribbean will receive an alert concerning the fictitious earthquake on Wednesday morning. Bulletins will be issued by the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (United States) for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach (Hawaii, US) for the rest of the area a few minutes after the fictitious earthquake.

The exercise does not involve communities. The goal is to test the Tsunami and other coastal hazards warning system for the Caribbean and adjacent regions, which was established in 2005 by the countries of the region in collaboration with UNESCO and IOC. The effectiveness of alert, monitoring and warning systems among all the emergency management organizations (national focal points for tsunami alerts, weather forecast offices, national coast guard etc.) throughout the region will be tested. The test is designed to determine whether Caribbean countries are ready to respond in the event of a dangerous tsunami.

“Previous experience underlines the crucial importance of rapid transmission of information.  It has shown that national authorities must take risk into account at all levels, including education about hazards in schools, urban planning in coastal zones, modification of building codes and materials, evacuation plans for communities and organization of effective emergency services,” a release from the Department of Communications stated.

The Office of Disaster Management by mobilizing its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which includes the 10 Emergency Support Functions (ESF) to participate in a workshop at 10:00 a.m. on March 23 at the Fire & Ambulance Building in Cay Hill. The region-wide tsunami drill is referred to as “Exercise Caribe Wave 11/LANTEX.”  The drill will allow the country’s ESF coordinators in a workshop setting to discuss possible actions to be taken, the flow of information, warnings to the population, evacuation etc.

“The exercise for St. Maarten will lead to the development of a tsunami response plan. Preparing for an earthquake/tsunami situation is very different than preparing for a hurricane. There is no warning of an earthquake; however you do get some time to take action when a tsunami warning has been issued. I fully agree with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who said that the earthquake and tsunami that have devastated part of Japan has shown how essential alert systems are,” Fire Commander/Disaster Coordinator Winston Salomon told the Department of Communications (DCOMM) on Monday.

Bokova added, in a UNESCO press release, that the development of a coordinated system in the Caribbean is more relevant than ever, enabling coastal communities to prepare in the event of such a disaster and to save human lives.

Over the last 500 years, 75 tsunamis have occurred in the Caribbean. This figure represents about 10 per cent of the entire number of oceanic tsunamis in the world during that period.

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