Numerous assurances were issued
this week by Education Ministry and Department of Education officials that
public schools were prepared to respond in the event of an earthquake.
“Our schools have earthquake plans,
which were developed in partnership with Hazard Management,” Chief Education
Officer Shirley Wahler said in a prepared statement released last Wednesday
after a 5.9-magnitude earthquake rattled Grand Cayman
the day before.
“Our teachers ensured that students were evacuated
from the buildings and remained in open areas until they received the all-clear
from Hazard Management yesterday morning.”
Yet on Tuesday, by most accounts,
chaos reigned at John Gray High School
in George Town
as students left campus unaccounted for and worried parents flooded the area.
Meanwhile, the agency that
education officials said assisted in developing an earthquake plan for the
schools admitted last week that it has no such plan itself.
While the Cayman
Islands has procedures to guide evacuation and recovery in
hurricanes that are used in other disasters such as earthquakes or floods,
there is no specific earthquake plan, Hazard Management Cayman Islands’ Deputy
Director Omar Afflick said.
Asked why no plan was drawn up
following the 6.8-magnitude earthquake in December 2004, Mr. Afflick said that
“was a difficult question to answer”, adding “these plans are not drawn up
overnight; they need proper analysis in terms of vulnerability, risks and
In the week immediately following
the devastating earthquake in Haiti
on 12 January, the department had not carried out any work on developing an earthquake
response plan, Mr. Afflick admitted, instead concentrating on drills for the
government administration building.
However, Hazard Management had
completed a “preliminary vulnerability assessment” that examined various
disaster scenarios, including earthquakes, in March last year.
Agencies on their own
Mr. Afflick said individual government
entities could draw up their own earthquake or other natural disaster plans.
But even the best laid plans can go
School in George Town,
students were seen vaulting school fences and walking out through the front
gate without parental consent or even supervision after the earthquake last
Some parents who arrived to pick up
their children said they were told by school officials that no more children
were being allowed to leave.
Shortly after that, a scuffle
between a 15-year-old student, two police officers and a teacher broke out. The
student ended up in the hospital with scrapes on his neck.
Ministry of Education Chief Officer
Mary Rodrigues said there appeared to have been a miscommunication between
parents and school administrators on Tuesday.
“No decision was taken to prevent
children from leaving the compound; the decision was taken to not allow the
students to wait at the gates [outside the building],” Mrs. Rodrigues wrote in
an e-mail to the Caymanian Compass. “These actions were taken in an effort to
restore calm and order to the campus.
“The normal procedures for signing
out students simply could not function with the sheer volume of parents who
arrived to sign out children.”
Mrs. Rodrigues said student
sign-out protocols will be one of the areas under review by the Education
Ministry as it looks to improve emergency response procedures.
Education Minister Rolston Anglin
said he understood parents’ anxieties, but the situation that occurred simply
could not be allowed to happen.
“It may not seem necessary for
students to sign out before leaving a school, but it is the only way we can
account for each student in an emergency situation,” Mr. Anglin said. “What if
buildings had collapsed? How would we have known who to look for?”
Mr. Anglin said he was encouraged
that emergency procedures at many other Cayman Islands
public schools appeared to have gone smoothly.
“There were obviously some things
that did not go so well,” he said. “Our focus now at the ministry is to ensure
we learn from these incidents to make sure we are better prepared in the
Other crucial Cayman
Islands government agencies confirmed they did not have earthquake
The Health Services Authority’s
disaster coordinator Michelle Reid told the Caymanian Compass that the Cayman Islands Hospital did not have an earthquake
Although the hospital does have an
evacuation policy in the event of fire or hurricanes, Ms Reid admitted it had
no specific plan in the case of an earthquake.
“We don’t have an earthquake plan
in place. We will be developing one, along with being advised by Hazard
Management Cayman Islands,” she said.
Sinkhole filled in
Meanwhile a giant sinkhole that
appeared in the earthquake was filled in at the Pirates Lair condominium
complex on South Sound Road
Three security guards were
stationed at the site on Wednesday morning to keep people away while an excavator
was at work filling the hole.
Two smaller “possible sinkholes”
that were bubbling were also discovered about 200 yards from Pirates Lair, in
about a foot of water, Simon Boxall with Hazard Management said.
Staff members from the Department
of the Environment examined the holes on South Sound on Wednesday and said they
A preliminary report from the
Public Works Department indicated that there was no severe damage to any
government building. The Hazard Management team had also received no reports of
structural damage to other buildings or structures.
At least three schools reported
minor damage from Tuesday’s quake. A hairline crack appeared in the Bodden Town
Primary School Library; a crack was spotted over the door of a modular
classroom; and an already cracked beam at Leading Edge school split further.
Public works crews
were making repairs.