Cayman to participate in regional tsunami-response exercise

The Cayman Islands will participate in a regionwide tsunami response exercise on Thursday, according to an announcement from Hazard Management Cayman Islands.

Hazard Management’s announcement stated the purpose of the exercise is to evaluate local tsunami-response plans and communications strategies, increase tsunami preparedness, and improve regional coordination.

The drill will entail the simulation of a major earthquake off the coast of Colombia at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Hazard Management Communications Officer Simon Boxall said his department will send out notifications to the local media, as well as the National Emergency Operations Centre, members of the Legislative Assembly, schools, and other government agencies.

“Basically, we want to test our internal comms and ask the various people who receive the messages – including the media – to consider how they might respond if the threat was real, or at least how you might react to the Cayman Islands being suddenly placed under a tsunami watch,” stated Mr. Boxall. “We obviously depend on the media to a certain extent to get information out to the public. We can’t do it all on our own.”

Danielle Coleman, the deputy director of preparedness for Hazard Management, said Cayman is establishing an emergency alert system, but Mr. Boxall said it likely will not be up and running by Thursday.

“The radio interrupt equipment is here – arrived last week – and it is being set up now, but it is not clear if it will be installed in time to test it in the tsunami exercise,” he said.

Once the equipment is established, it will allow Hazard Management to interrupt radio broadcasts with its emergency messages, according to Mr. Boxall.

The exercise is sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Caribbean Emergency Management Agency, the Centro de Coordinación para la Prevención de los Desastres Naturales en América Central, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The exercise comes a little more than two months after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Honduras triggered a tsunami scare that impacted Cayman.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center briefly placed the Cayman Islands on an advisory watchlist on Jan. 9, warning of a potential wave impact between 1 and 3 feet at around 10:30 p.m.

Information about the quake and the scale of the anticipated tsunami was not immediately available locally, prompting speculation and some concern among residents, who feared a more serious wave impact.

The first official notification from government’s Hazard Management unit dropped at 10:46 p.m. – 15 minutes after the anticipated wave impact.

Mr. Boxall said at the time that the incident “re-emphasizes what we have been saying for a while: We need a mass notification system. It is fairly standard in other countries …. The public need and expect to be informed if a threat is coming their way.”

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