A week since the 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook the Cayman Islands, stories of uniformed services going above and beyond the call of duty continue to come to light.
While Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI) was responsible for coordinating the Islands’ effort, the Department of Public Safety Communication (DPSC), Cayman Islands Fire Service (CIFS) and Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service (HMCIPS) each tackled this unprecedented event quickly and calmly.
As the department responsible for 9-1-1, DPSC’s primary role is to receive and disseminate emergency and non-emergency calls for service and messages to appropriate first response agencies.
Call taking and dispatching services continued uninterrupted during the afternoon of Tuesday, 28 January 2020 as no damage was evident to the 9-1-1 centre.
In the hour that followed the initial earthquake, DPSC saw a 200% increase in the number of calls received compared to normal operations. Public reports of island wide sink holes and other roadway damage were captured through DPSC. The necessary information was then shared with partners in CIFS, HMCI, RCIPS and HSA in accordance with its internal major incident procedures.
CIFS responded to 20 emergency incident notifications from 9-1-1 in the hours following Tuesday’s earthquake. These included small fires, the reported smell of gas and alarms operating.
Working closely with colleagues from RCIPS, CIFS operational crews from Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman provided reassurance, guidance and advice to residents, businesses and visitors across the three islands.
Operational crews maintained full coverage for 9-1-1 domestic incidents. In addition, they provided essential fire and rescue operational cover at Owen Roberts, Charles Kirkconnell and Edward Bodden Airports, which began operating as normal following a brief interruption. No structural damage was evident to CIFS’s fire stations.
HMCIPS colleagues also promptly resumed normal residential routines. At Fairbanks, nine staff including the Director and Deputy Director were on site at the time of the earthquake, the safety of all 14 prisoners and staff on site was ascertained quickly and in a calm and measured manner. Once the initial tremor had passed prisoners were advised to get under the protective cover of the metal frame beds.
Given the confirmed structural integrity of the HMP Fairbanks buildings, it was believed the best decision to ensure safety of all prisoners and staff was not to evacuate.
A radio check was immediately undertaken to assess individuals’ safety across all the HMCIPS facilities.
The Director of Prisons, Mr. Steven Barrett swiftly organised a comprehensive building structural check of all facilities. The full assessment report showing no significant damage was completed the same day.
Since Tuesday’s earthquake, a team of psychologists and counsellors have engaged with both prisoners and staff at Fairbanks, with the same now being organised for Northward in the coming days.
As is the case with the aftermath of any unprecedented event, HMCIPS have commissioned an internal review of contingency plans as part of a lessons learned exercise which will include arrangements to support staff and prisoner emotional welfare.
In addition, senior leaders from HMCI, CIFS and DPSC participated in a debriefing exercise on Friday, 31 January 2020 with those from other key critical first response agencies, to review the initial response to the incident, establish what went well and identify lessons learned.
Further debriefings will be conducted by HMCI with the Emergency Support Teams (ESTs) in the coming weeks to ensure that all opportunities to improve the national hazard response capability are identified and acted upon.
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