March roll-out planned for emergency notification system

Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Danielle Coleman looks at data recording screens at HMCI's headquarters. - Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

Phase two of Cayman’s National Emergency Notification System is expected to be launched within the next two months, according to Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Danielle Coleman.

Coleman, in providing an update on the system to the Cayman Compass, said work is continuing on creating the HMCI mobile application which will deliver messages directly to cellphones of users who opt to receive alerts.

“We’re just ironing out a few issues with data protection and data privacy to make sure that we are adhering to all the legislation. But we really hope to get that out in probably the next month or two,” she said. Phase one of the national emergency notification system, a radio alert system, has already been established. That alert was used during the 28 Jan. earthquake and interrupted 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, hazard mitigation officer Mark Codling explained last year.

Related: 7.7 magnitude earthquake remembered

Phase two includes the creation of the free mobile app which users would need to download and choose to subscribe to alerts with an email address or phone number. Developers are also looking at creating a function to allow alerts to override phones set on silent or sleep mode.

“I’m a massive believer that the more avenues you can get a notification like that the better. We were only going to use the app for very large-scale emergencies, not just something like a low [magnitude] earthquake, Coleman said. “It will be [used] for something that’s going to be severely impacting the islands. So, your phone won’t be getting off every day, all the time.”

The third phase of the alert system aims to allow alerts to be sent to any mobile within range of a cell phone tower which would mean visitors would be also be notified of a disaster.

The way the alert is envisioned to work is anyone in the range of a cell tower on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac or Little Cayman will receive an emergency alert via SMS.

Coleman also said work continues on boosting local emergency shelter capacity which would be required in case of a disaster.

“We’ve been trying to increase shelter capacity… for some time. We’ve identified a number of buildings. We’ve done a lot of assessments in these buildings with Public Works, our partners there. We’ve also looking at procuring more shelter supplies, ensuring more teams are trained,” she said.

However, Coleman said projects like shelters have to go through a number of different decision-making bodies to make that a reality.

The hope for this year is to have enough shelter capacity on Grand Cayman for 20% of the population, she said. “ At present Grand Cayman’s shelters can accommodate 8% of the public over; on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman the shelters can hold 50% and 100%, respectively.”

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