Thu | Dec 13, 2018

'Urgent need for early warning systems in the Caribbean'

Published:Thursday | January 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The urgent need for early warning systems is the most poignant lesson for Ronald Jackson, head of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Manage-ment Agency, following warnings of possible tsunami surges throughout the region.

Jamaica had been monitoring the situation after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck in the Caribbean Sea between the coast of Honduras and The Cayman Islands on Tuesday night, causing officials to warn people around the region to be alert to the threat of possible tsunami surges.

Jackson indicated that Jamaica and other Caribbean countries would have to begin looking at multiple sources of alerting persons beyond text messages, social media, and the news.

"It is a fact that we do not have, extensively in the region, the kind of early warning systems that can alert people to such an event. If we look at the time it occurred, a lot of persons would have been sleeping. So it means that we need to have warning systems. In this case, it would have been sirens in most of our coastal communities," he told The Gleaner in an interview yesterday.

"One of the things we have been exploring is multihazard watch systems. So, for example, whether the sirens can carry a number of functions, which wouldn't be only for tsunamis, but other events in coastal communities. But that is what concerns me the most, that in most of the vulnerable coastal communities there isn't that kind of facility, which would give persons adequate notice in time."

Chairman of the St Catherine Municipal Corporation Norman Scott says that the tsunami early warning system in place in Old Harbour Bay in that parish works well.

He noted that residents who complained about not hearing a warning siren in the village, following the news of the 7.6 earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning postings, must understand how the system works.

"It's a warning system, which means it will only be sounded if there is a threat. There was none. But I am happy about the evacuations because it shows that people are serious about preserving their own lives," Scott said.