What would happen if a gigantic wave was barrelling toward Grand Cayman and there were only two hours to prepare for its arrival? Hazard Management Cayman Islands tackled that scenario on Thursday, when it participated in the regional Caribe Wave Tsunami Exercise.
The safety drill, modeled by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, asked government agencies to imagine an 8.47 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Panama. In this hypothetical case, the quake resulted in a tsunami wave between three and nine feet rushing toward Cayman.
Hazard Management gathered with several key response partners, including police, Fire Service and Health Services Authority personnel, in addition to emissaries from government agencies that included the National Weather Service, the Port Authority and the Department of Tourism.
Together, they gamed out what would need to be done in such a short period of time.
This particular drill specifically centred on taking steps to ensure the safety of the tourism sector. And it took place on a day in which Cayman’s proprietors would have been serving 15,000 cruise ship passengers.
“It was quite useful,” said Simon Boxall, the acting deputy director of Hazard Management. “We looked at trying to establish some sort of evacuation plan. We looked at development maps and identified low-lying areas. We thought about how the message gets out and the way it’s disseminated.”
Boxall said the response agencies have been utilising WhatsApp and email messaging groups designed to spread the word to safety managers, tour operators and taxi companies.
There are still plans to craft an immediate emergency alert system that would warn people in Cayman, but Boxall said that is still a long way away from completion.
“It’s still our goal,” he said. “It’s still our intention, our hope.”
He said Hazard Management is nearing the capability to use the local radio waves to inform concerned Cayman residents, but it has not cleared the funds necessary to implement a system in which it can send emergency text messages to every cellphone on the island.
Hazard Management has made a budget request for those funds, said Boxall, but they have not yet been approved.
“We’re still pushing for it,” he said.