Monday, March 14, 2011

West Coast Unprepared And Among Most Tsunami Vulnerable In Barbados

"While one coastal expert rated the island's tsunami readiness at "six out of ten", the head of disaster management disclosed there were "significant gaps" in the mechanism.

Deputy Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Dr. Lorna Inniss gave preparedness for a tsunami a grade of six out of ten today in an interview with Barbados TODAY, but said preparations for the devastating natural disaster were continuing in earnest.

She noted that in another week there would be a simulation exercise involving disaster preparedness agencies and other stakeholders tracking such an exercise from the time the warning is received until after impact.

Director of the Department of Emergency Management Judy Thomas disclosed there was a significant "gap" in readiness -- a mass notification system to warn Barbadians of impending danger, remained unresolved.

She noted that the country still had "a long way to go in terms of putting down the mass notification warning mechanisms because we want to use the cellular networks and the putting down of sirens or the reactivation of the police siren system to give public warnings", she said

"Those are the last things that we have to do to ensure that we have our mass notification system, but the work has started and the work is ongoing. We have not abandoned the thought of getting our country aware of the tsunamis and what they can do, and receiving the warnings out of the Pacific and then having those warnings given to the Barbadian community."

Thomas said a major challenge was that Barbados no longer had a working national siren system, and beyond that there was no money "for a mass siren system at this stage".

And as hoteliers go about putting their disaster mitigation plans in place, there is a call from one the key spokespersons for Barbados' vital tourism sector to have a greater communication system and a proper education programme.

Executive Vice-President of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Sue Springer, said there should be a tsunami plan in place. "If there is a plan that's put in place, and with everything that's happening all around us, this level of expenditure to communicate that plan must take priority. We've had a couple of earthquakes tossed around us; we're watching it all over. Who says that we're sitting here so privileged?

"Education and communication must happen so that when the [warning] siren goes, we know and we tell everybody get out of wherever you are and head for the hills and not motorised either cause it will make no difference," she said.

Springer noted that 90 per cent of the hospitality sector was on the coastlines and a storm surge would be devastating to the sector.

That apart, the Ministry of Education was forging ahead with its evacuation plans, said Acting Chief Education officer Laurie King, in a separate interview today. He said that the Ministry was not waiting for an impending disaster to implement an evacuation plan and had carried out, and will continue to do, drills at schools situated along the coastlines and those in low lying areas.

There were also evacuation routes planned to take people to higher ground.

The rebuilding process could be easier for some than others, said President of the General Insurance Association of Barbados, Michael Holder. He explained that once policy holders had the necessary insurance in place, it should not present a problem.

He noted that normally where there was hurricane and earthquake coverage, there was also coverage for tsunamis.

But several Barbadians would be caught off-guard should a tsunami roll in. Some of the most vulnerable areas across the nation still have no real evacuation plans and no idea of what should be done in the event of such a natural disaster. Barbados TODAY paid a visit to a number of these coastal communities including Six Men's, St. Peter, Holetown, St. James, Half Moon Fort, St. Lucy and the message was the same neighbourhood after neighbourhood - no one was ready, no one was prepared.

Some blamed a failure on the part of the relevant authorities to adequately educate the public despite the launch of a public education and awareness week for the Tsunami And Coastal Hazards Warning System Project in March, last year. Others felt there was little or nothing they could do to secure themselves or their families even if armed with the necessary information."

Source: "Significant gaps remain in the island's readiness for a tsunami"


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