When a 7.7 earthquake shook Cayman and its neighbours in January 2020, an emergency alert intercepted the signals of 16 local radio stations.

That event triggered a radio decoder, which enables emergency teams to override regular programming, seven times, in response to the earthquake and tsunami scare, said hazard mitigation officer Mark Codling.

Alongside the Hazard Management Cayman Islands team and the National Emergency Operations Centre, Codling has taken part in a phased approach to establish a far-reaching community notification system.

Long-term goal

In the long-term, the goal is to establish a multi-channel mechanism that sends out alerts not just by radio, but also through SMS, a cell phone app and email.

Eventually, members of the public will receive notifications regardless of internet connectivity or registration of a local phone number.

Phase one, the radio alert system, has already been established. January’s events tested the system in response to real-world incident for the first time. Monthly tests have been scheduled in off-peak hours, sending out a siren sound, three beeps and a quick message that has been approved by the NEOC chain of command.

“A person could say radio is old-school in a sense, but in the worst-case scenario, if we have total outage, the system is independent of internet access,” Codling said. “So, if there’s an outage, we would have the system up and it’s really one of the most robust communication systems that we have on-island.”

Now, a multi-agency team is working towards launching a mobile app, which could be released in coming months.

Users would first download the free app and have the option of subscribing to alerts with an email address or phone number.

Developers are looking to implement a function to allow alerts to override when phones are set on silent or sleep mode.

“We don’t want something to occur and you’re not alerted,” Codling said.

Right now, he said the team is working to ensure the app complies with the Data Protection Law, before it is launched.

Disaster management planners also have their sights on maintaining public safety once tourists return to Cayman.

Third phase

A third phase aims to allow alerts to be sent to any mobile within range of a cell phone tower. That would mean visitors would be notified of a disaster.

“Once you’re in the range of a cell tower on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac or Little Cayman, you’ll receive an emergency alert via SMS,” Codling said.

“So, that will be very wonderful for persons who come to visit the island.”

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