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Earthquake tests Cayman’s emergency response

Opinions & Editorial 29 Jan, 2020 Follow News

Earthquake tests Cayman’s emergency response

The 7.7 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Cayman Islands on Tuesday afternoon tested Cayman’s Hazard Management and emergency teams unlike ever before. Despite a lengthy journey home from George Town and some misinformation spread on social media with regard to tsunami warnings and water supplies cutting off, Cayman residents were kept well informed by Government’s Hazard Management team and public safety was maintained by all emergency responders, a response that was praised by Cayman’s leaders in the aftermath.

The earthquake, which hit at 2.10 p.m. occurred south of Jamaica at a depth of 10km and strong shocks were felt across the Cayman Islands. The quick and robust response by the team of individuals tasked with managing such threats to the island was praised by the Governor and the Premier.

Governor Martyn Roper called Hazard Management, first responders and law enforcement’s response “outstanding” and detailed that the RCIPS helicopter was deployed immediately and quickly in the air, providing an invaluable assessment of the developing situation, he said.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said he felt Cayman had come through this significant earthquake “fairly well” and that there were no injuries and no serious structural damage reported.

“I’d like to thank the Hazard Management Cayman Islands team and government communication team for their swift response in getting the message out to everyone. I wish to also thank those Caribbean leaders who called me to check that all was well,” the Premier said.

While many businesses shut immediately after the earthquake on Tuesday, including banks and supermarkets, by Wednesday, although schools were closed, Government reported that businesses, hotels, cruise operations and airports were operating as normal.


Police response

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Deputy Commissioner of Police Kurt Walton described the traffic situation in George Town after the earthquake, which was effectively at gridlock from around 4pm on Tuesday, as “challenging”. Mr Walton said the police had placed traffic as a priority and had tried to clear the roads as best they could.

“It was a challenging period,” he confirmed. “I went into town afterwards and pretty much every intersection was congested. The main difficulty was getting people out of George Town,” he advised, commending his “really good team of traffic officers” who, he said, were working as best to manage the situation using other staff to support traffic management.

“We brought in a fairly sizeable team in at 7am this morning [Wednesday] and had our command meeting at 8am. I am fairly confident we can manage the situation based on resources,” he confirmed Wednesday.

The RCIPS’s other priority was to ensure that children, as the most vulnerable members of society, were safe and secure and they spent time checking with schools in that regard. They also checked with the prisons to ensure safety and security of prisoners. Mr Walton said he was thankful that the RCIPS were able to make use of the police helicopter which they deployed some five miles offshore to monitor for any potential threat of a tsunami and who were able to give a live commentary.

“The earthquake certainly tested our resources,” he said, thanking off duty police officers who volunteered to work and to those officers whose shifts were extended well into the night.

Mr Walton said there was quite a robust presence of officers on the ground to ensure that law and order was maintained and to assist the National Roads Authority in their quest to deal with sinkholes in the roads.

“Our officers worked throughout the night and despite some aftershocks, we had a fairly quiet night in terms of maintaining law and order,” he confirmed.


HMCI kept communications open

The public had been well kept abreast of developments immediately after the event, Danielle Coleman, Director of Hazard Management Cayman, explained, via Hazard Management’s social media bulletins and website, CIGTV interviews and with the new radio interrupt system which advised radio listeners very quickly after the event of a subsequent tsunami advisory. This was followed by the all clear later on. Mrs Coleman spoke about the next phase of this advisory service that is due to be rolled out in April which will be an App that the public can install on their phones to keep them constantly advised of the situation. Mrs Coleman said she would strongly advise everyone to download it, once it becomes available. She also recommended not spreading unverified information on social media, to prevent widespread panic.

“Our website is a very good resource because we have a great deal of earthquake information on there. If you feel a very strong earthquake you need to evacuate vertically and have a family plan in place,” she advised, adding that businesses also needed solid continuity plans in place as well. Mrs Coleman also advised against any parent’s natural reaction to immediately go and collect their children from school, following an earthquake, because this just added to the congestion on roads. Instead, she said they had been working with schools across the islands to ensure that they had an emergency plan in place. They would be continuing to work with schools to ensure drills were practiced in anticipation of such events.

Mrs Coleman warned that the Cayman Islands had experienced 14 aftershocks (as at Wednesday morning) and there was the potential for more over the next few weeks, so the public needed to be vigilant.

As far as physical damage was concerned, Mrs Coleman said that assessment teams were out looking at issues such as sinkholes. This information was feeding directly into Hazard Management which would then be digested before any assessment on the financial impact of the earthquake could be made. The NRA was busy filling in sinkholes in road and Public Works Department were also doing the same on properties. Historical data and geo maps were being employed to highlight areas vulnerable to sinkholes, moving forward.

Mrs Coleman said that Hazard Management also worked very closely with the Sister Islands and their response was fantastic, she said, with teams out doing damage assessments early on. A debriefing would be taking place Friday to see how improvements could be made to the emergency response.

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