Western News

Positive response to earthquake drill in Santa Cruz

... But analysts say infirmary needs more staff

Garfield Myers

Thursday, February 23, 2012    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth - It wasn't perfect but those involved in an earthquake drill at the St Elizabeth Infirmary in Santa Cruz recently are voicing satisfaction with the exercise.

"The objectives of the drill were met," said Camille Beckford-Palmer, Regional Coordinator of ODPEM (Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Mabnagement) South,as she and others summed up after the simulation.

Emergency teams in the parish including ambulance crews, fire department, police, Jamaica Red Cross and infirmary crews were part of the exercise which involved simulated rescue of residents at the institution.

The exercise was part of a Natural Simulation and Training Programme run by ODPEM since January focused on earthquakes and tsunamis.

The recent drill conducted simultaneously across Jamaica, was based on the assumption of an earthquake at 7.1 on the Richter scale with its epicentre in Kingston.

In St Elizabeth the script was for minor to moderate effects with structural damage to the infirmary which embraces a number of old buildings.

Emergency agencies were credited for speedy response and effective coordination in the rescue effort. However, Beckford-Palmer and others pointed to weaknesses including staff shortages at the institution which would have had a negative effect had it been a real emergency especially at night.

Matron at the St Elizabeth Infirmary, Joycelyn Bryan, told the Observer West that there are 60 residents and "23 staff all told" including herself. Based on shift arrangements, staffing becomes especially skeletal at nights with just "three or four" people on duty on some nights and just two on one night each week, said Bryan.

Beckford-Palmer urged St Elizabeth Parish Council representatives at the drill to use their influence in trying to increase staff at the institution. The parish council has responsibility for the infirmary.

Beckforf-Palmer also encouraged Bryan and her staff to strengthen links with the community so that neighbours will instinctively rush to their aid during emergencies.

Jamaica is on a major earthquake fault. The island suffered catastrophic earthquake impact in 1692 when the legendary pirate city of Port Royal was destroyed and again in 1907 when the capital Kingston was devastated.

Jamaicans were graphically reminded of the ever present danger of earthquakes in their region in January 2010 when a shake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck close to Port- au- Prince, the capital of neighbouring Haiti. That quake left an estimated 300,000-plus dead and devastated infrastructure.

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