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Tsunami readiness put to test

by Kimberley Cummins

Disaster officials at briefing after simulation.

Disaster officials at briefing after simulation.

Barbados’ state of tsunami readiness was tested yesterday when it participated in the Caribe Wave 2013 exercise.

Some members of the public and private sector agencies responsible for disaster management joined in the exercise, which was simultaneously held in 34 other countries that are linked by the Caribbean sea.

While it proved that there had been much improvement in the areas of education and preparedness, Acting Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Lorna Inniss, said much more work still needed to be done.

Speaking at a press briefing at the Department of Emergency Management in Warrens in St. Michael following the exercise, she said that being fully prepared for a tsunami was a very difficult thing to achieve. However, she added that her department would for the next few years put in place a strategy to improve the communication system to get the warnings out and continue to educate the public.

Though the focus of today’s exercise was tsunamis based, Inniss said, further education would not be limited to that aspect alone, but would incorporate other coastal hazards such as storm surges, winter swells, sea level rise and climate change.

“It is hard for any country to say we are ready. The most prepared country in the world is Japan, … which in 2011 Japan lost 2,500 people. Were they prepared? Yes, but as far as they were concerned they failed, and that is why they went back and looked at every single possible procedure and tried to improve it.

“If a tsunami had come to Barbados in 2004 instead of going to the Indian ocean three quarters of the Barbados population would be dead. In the last six years we have gotten people to talk about it, we have got clubs and organisations in society asking for presentations, learning what to do. There is a level of preparedness we have now but I am saying we have to go to the next stage,” she said.

“[Yesterday morning] there were some agencies that were well organised in terms of their standard operating procedures and they were the ones that got the message and were able to cascade the warning through their various branches in order to effect a response and then there were others that never got the warning at all, even though they have radios. This is why we need to get that message out.

“We need our warning focal points to receive the message within one minute of an earthquake occurring, … the message of a possible tsunami. Getting that message now from him to the public is a major communication system that we are now developing.

“As you can imagine, it is costly and these things are going to take time. However, what we have set up is a working group on communication that is headed by the telecommunications network and they are now working to determine which media there†are going to use to get that warning out.

“We are trying as many ways as possible, but we need to come up with a system that has as much redundancy built into it that everybody who is vulnerable can hear it,” said Inniss who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Coastal Hazards.

Yesterday’s exercise involved the Barbados Fire Service, the Royal Barbados Police Force, the DEM, medical and health official and the St. John District Emergency Organsation. It was†staged in the Zoares, Martin’s Bay and the St. Margaret Village areas of St. John. The next Caribe Wave 13 stimulation exercise is scheduled for 2015.†

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