200% increase in 9-1-1 calls following quake

Prison service defends decision not to evacuate Fairbanks women's prison

The Fire Service responded to 9-1-1 calls about small fires, smells of gas and alarms going off following the 28 Jan. earthquake in the Cayman Islands. - File photo: Taneos Ramsay

Cayman’s 9-1-1 emergency call centre experienced a 200% increase in calls in the hour following last week’s 7.7 magnitude earthquake, according to officials.

The calls were from people reporting small fires, the smell of gas and alarms going off, as well as sinkholes and road damage, following the strong tremor that shook the Cayman Islands on Tuesday, 28 Jan., the Department of Public Safety Communication, which operates the 9-1-1 centre, stated in a press release.

The 9-1-1 call centre received 207 calls between 2:16pm and 3:55pm that day. This compares to around 65 to 69 calls it would normally expect for that time of day.

The Cayman Islands Fire Service responded to 20 emergency calls relating to those reports that afternoon.

The 9-1-1 operators shared relevant information from the reports with the Fire Service, Hazard Management Cayman Islands, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and the Health Services Authority, officials said.

Department officials said call taking and dispatching services continued uninterrupted during the afternoon of the quake as no damage was evident to the 9-1-1 centre.

Prison response

The release also addressed a decision not to evacuate Fairbanks women’s prison following the strong earthquake, saying there had been no damage to the prison facilities, so “it was believed the best decision to ensure safety of all prisoners and staff was not to evacuate”.

It stated that nine staff were on site at Fairbanks, including Prison Director Steven Barrett, when the earthquake struck.

“The safety of all 14 prisoners and staff on site was ascertained quickly and in a calm and measured manner. Once the initial tremor had passed prisoners were advised to get under the protective cover of the metal frame beds,” the release stated.

“A radio check was immediately undertaken to assess individuals’ safety across all the HMCIPS facilities,” according to the release.

A GIS spokesperson said the inmates at Fairbanks were all indoors when the earthquake struck.

“As such, assessing everyone’s safety and checking the integrity of the building was quick to do and didn’t require the inmates to be displaced,” the spokesperson said.

At Northward, where male prisoners are held, most of the inmates were “out of their cells on their way to employment or educational assignments, with only a few remaining inside” when the tremor started.

After the tremor passed, all prisoners at Northward were sent outdoors.

“As the Northward complex has a higher number of buildings, the decision was quickly made to bring the remaining indoor inmates outside to where the majority of inmates were. This made for a quicker assessment of everyone’s safety than if resources had been spread across the site,” the spokesperson said.

The prison’s structure was checked for damage and none was found, she added.

Prison officials said that, since the earthquake, a team of psychologists and counsellors has been engaging with prisoners and staff at Fairbanks. Similar sessions will be organised for Northward prison in the coming days.

“As is the case with the aftermath of any unprecedented event, Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service has commissioned an internal review of contingency plans as part of a lessons learned exercise, which will include arrangements to support staff and prisoner emotional welfare,” the release stated.