A combination of electronic billboards, text messages and radio and television intercepts has been proposed to help alert the public in emergency scenarios.

The new system was put forward after widespread criticism of the level of communication from officials during a fire at the Jackson Point fuel depot that prompted a mass evacuation of neighboring homes last year. Similar concerns were expressed about the speed of emergency communications when a tsunami scare impacted Grand Cayman in January.

A discussion paper released Tuesday by utilities regulator OfReg examines cost-effective options to improve the situation, that could be implemented this year.

The proposed Emergency Notification System also includes sirens for high-risk areas like CUC and the fuel depot.

A high-tech system that would allow officials to send instant messages to all smartphone users in the Cayman Islands is not part of the current plans but is still considered a viable long-term option. That system, similar to the U.S. Amber Alerts, would cost more than $1 million to implement. The current proposals involve using a combination of existing communications channels in an effort to reach as many people as possible.

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The paper states, “The Emergency Notification System would utilise inexpensive, available technologies to provide early warnings and alerts prior to disasters (when possible) as well as real time emergency instructions during disasters, thus aiding Hazard Management and first responders in more efficiently managing public health and safety.

“The need for an innovative Emergency Notification System has been demonstrated in the last twelve months, with the fuel depot fire at Jackson Point Terminal and the recent tsunami warning.”

The plan includes SMS messages, to be sent out to all known local numbers; FM radio/cable TV alerts auto-generated to interrupt regular programming to broadcast the emergency notification; social media broadcasts and the development of a mobile phone app.

SMS broadcasting has proved ineffective in recent tests because it took too long, in many cases, for the messages to get through. But the paper suggests it can still be a useful tool in combination with other methods.

It highlights 12 different avenues for broadcasting emergency messages, including the use of electronic billboards at key traffic intersections.

“Combined, the channels create an innovative Emergency Network System with layers of redundancy meant to increase penetration,” it states.

In a statement released by OfReg alongside the discussion paper, CEO J. Paul Morgan, said, “At OfReg, part of our mandate under the law is to protect the consumer. The ENS could potentially save lives through the timely delivery of emergency messages. There can be no argument that this is the highest form of consumer protection.”

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  1. Ok, I am fully alert, but what do I do next? If one is to evacuate where should he go under different scenarious?

    If someone is disabled or elderly, what he or she is supposed to do? Are there emergency support groups specifically dedicated to assist infirm? Do they know exactly where each one lives having a regularly updated list of these people so noone is left behind? They had drills and know exactly what to do without delay? Once alarm goes on emergency assistance staff are on their way to evacuate/assist them? Their vehicles are clerly marked so police would give them green light? I hope so.

    As for the rest, what are they supposed to do in a case of tsunami? Fuel depot or other industrial fires with high risk of explosions? How about not just probable but possible dump explosions or fires that would require not just evacuations but protection from chemicals released into air? Are there proper protections mask on this island that would be promptly distributed to people? Are there people designated to do just that? Or residents were advised to have their own masks? Where should people evacuate in this case? Does grand cayman population know? Do hotels know where to evacuate their guests and have respiratory masks for each occupant and staff?

    Emergency alert system without contingency planning is like having a car without an engine. I hope all my questions have already been addressed by emergency, hazard and disaster management team and each and every resident know exactly what to do, where to go and are ready.