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.
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.”