Environment

ODPEM moves to bolster Jamaica's readiness for quakes

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education staff reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 29, 2012    

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TO help limit the fallout from a major earthquake, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has been working with critical sectors to have them integrate disaster risk reduction practices into their operations.

Ronald Jackson, director general of ODPEM, said the agency has been utilising hazard information and assessments to inform disaster risk reduction practices in the various sectors, among them transportation, telecommunication and insurance.

With the application of disaster risk reduction strategies — including the construction of structures in line with zoning laws and accessing advantageous insurance packages tailored to their particular needs — Jackson said players in the various sectors would be able to adequately plan "for current as well as future investments".

Meanwhile, the need to mainstream such strategies was hammered home more than two weeks ago at the launch of the NEM Insurance-sponsored documentary film, titled QUAKE: Haiti in Jamaica.

The film depicts how Jamaica would fare in the event it was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake the likes of which ravaged Haiti in January of 2010.

Dr Lyndon Brown, head of the University of the West Indies-based Earthquake Unit who is featured in the film, noted the key findings. Critically, he said should a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Jamaica, there would be significant damage to the eastern part of the island, including Kingston — the centre of much of the island's economic activities.

Against this background, Jackson said it is critical that disaster risk reduction become a primary consideration for all industries.

"We are promoting risk reduction as a central theme in terms of government macro-economic programmes, so if we are talking about infrastructure, that is critical and essential to the country," he said.

In the case of air travel, Jackson said there is ongoing dialogue on finding an alternative landing strip in the event of an earthquake that causes damage to the island's two airports — both of which are located along sections of the coastline.

"This could be a possible approach to addressing the issues of the vulnerability of the air travel industry, given the location of the two major airports," he noted.

Further, Jackson said the strength of bridges and roadways will determine the extent to which transportation will be affected.

"We don't expect a magnitude-seven earthquake to impact Jamaica the same way it did Haiti, but that depends on a lot of unknown factors," he said.

"We don't know whether the workmen who built the houses would have stuck to the guides and specifications; we don't know whether they used the right amount of steel. The assumption is that it was done properly, but we don't know," Jackson added, noting that the condition of the infrastructure will determine the extent of the damage that would be sustained.

As such, he said that as part of readying the island for any fallout from a major earthquake, existing building codes need to be looked at and current structures examined to ensure they were built to specification.

"If they are not, then we look at cost benefits for retrofitting versus replacement and therefore move on from there as to what are the actions that you take. But it (cannot be) just a knee-jerk reaction; you have to go and assess," Jackson said.

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