Earthquake: Is Cayman ready?

Earthquake response

Although the chances of a major damaging earthquake affecting the Cayman Islands are not great, just the fact that there is a very active fault line only 25 miles south of Grand Cayman makes it a possibility.

In the aftermath of a damaging earthquake, Cayman’s National Emergency Operations Centre, along with its 18 subcommittees, would coordinate the response and recovery effort, said Simon Boxall, the public relations/communications officer for Hazard Management Cayman Islands.

“Each subcommittee has specific responsibilities – food sourcing, damage assessment, sheltering, etcetera – prescribed to them during a national response… As such the NEOC will be able to coordinate the response through these established mechanisms.”

Boxall said there were also standing agreements with the British government for assistance from the Royal Navy to support British Overseas Territories in times of disaster.

One thing of particular concern would be the condition of Cayman’s airport and cargo dock – through which all relief supplies would have to flow – after a damaging earthquake.

“We faced this exact situation in Cayman Brac after Hurricane Paloma,” Boxall said, noting that the cargo dock and airport are at the top of the list of core infrastructure that would be prioritized for repair after a damaging earthquake.

“Obviously HMCI has studied the possibility that for a period of time the main ports of entry could be non-operational and contingency arrangements are in place with the British government for support from the Royal Navy…

“The use of smaller vessels also will come into play as in the response to the Sister islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Paloma,” Boxall said. “Alternative berthing facilities will have to be identified or created and then be used in sustaining the receipt of international aid.”

In addition, Boxall said there was a plan in place to coordinate the relief efforts both internationally and from local sources.

As Cayman learned after Hurricane Ivan, any international monetary aid could be minimal or slow in coming.

Since the time of Ivan, however, Cayman has subscribed to The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which Boxall said is a type of parametric insurance.

“Parametric insurance is a type of insurance that uses a model to calculate the damage post-catastrophe,” he said. “This means that unlike traditional insurance, loss adjusters do not need to tally damage after catastrophe occurs, which can take months or even years.

“In the case of the CCRIF, United States Geological Survey earthquake location data is used as input to models which estimate loss due to an earthquake. It is the estimated loss, calculated totally objectively, which dictates whether or not a policy triggers and how much the payout will be.”

Boxall said the Cayman Islands Government had also established a disaster fund to assist with response and recovery of a damaging event.

“The amount set aside this year is approximately $150, 000,” he said. “If the amount, or any remaining balance, is unused, the total will be allowed to accumulate, with the expectation that a more significant relief and recovery fund will eventually be established for the Cayman Islands.

Preparedness

Unlike hurricanes, which can be monitored by satellite and weather instruments, there is no way to predict an earthquake will happen at any given time.  However, people can prepare for the possibility.

Boxall said Hazard Management Cayman Islands has designated 14 December as ‘Earthquake Awareness Day’ on an annual basis.

“This programme has been ongoing since 2007 and has targeted the schools as a primary audience,” he said.  “As such a large number of children in both private and public schools have been sensitized to earthquakes and ways in which they can prepare and protect themselves.”

Boxall said that after the 19 January earthquake in Cayman, there were a number of requests from the business community to participate in earthquake drills.

“Approximately 25 earthquake awareness presentations have been conducted in schools, banks, government agencies, law firms, financial institutions and other places of business over the past two months alone,” Boxall said. “To further entrench the programme into the schools’ activities, HMCI has met with the Ministry of Education in an effort to establish a regular schedule of Earthquake Awareness seminars and drills in schools in both Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands.”

Cayman International School conducts earthquake drills and follows the procedures recommended by Cayman Islands Hazard Management Department and the American Red Cross, said   Director Jean Caskey.

“Just as we practice fire drills and lockdown drills, we also have school-wide earthquake drills several times each school year,” she said. “Teachers and students are all prepared to follow earthquake procedures should they experience even a slight tremor. 

In the case of a moderate to severe earthquake, Caskey said students and teachers would evacuate the building when it was determined it was safe to move.

“Designated administrative and staff members will take attendance at the evacuation site and ensure the safety and security of all students, faculty, staff.”

Caskey said the school was ready and knew exactly what to do when the 19 January earthquake happened.

“After taking precautions in the classroom, the students and faculty/staff were evacuated where everyone was safely accounted for.”

Individuals can also prepare by having the proper amount of insurance on their homes.

“Earthquake is covered under our standard homeowners, strata and fire and allied perils policies,” said Sagicor General Insurance (Cayman) Ltd Senior Vice President Michael Gayle

Garth MacDonald, chief executive officer for Island Heritage Insurance Company Ltd., also said earthquakes and tsunamis are covered in the company’s standard property policy, but noted that the principles of under-insurance apply for those perils just as they do for hurricanes.

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