Officials say plans in place to respond to major earthquake
Senior Superintendent of Police in charge of the Operations Branch Michael Bailey outlines the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) plans to respond in the event the country experiences a major earthquake, during a Jamaica Information think tank at the agency's head office in St Andrew, Tuesday. (Photos: JIS)

Senior officials say plans are in place to respond immediately should the country experience a major earthquake.

Representatives from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM); the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF); Jamaica Defence Force (JDF); Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Earthquake Unit, University of the West Indies gave the assurance, during a JIS think tank on Tuesday.

"The JCF has a plan to deal with any major event, whether it be planned or unplanned. Earthquakes would be one of those emergencies for which we are prepared," said senior superintendent of police in charge of the Operations Branch, Michael Bailey.

He pointed out that while the constabulary cannot be 100 per cent ready, there is capacity to respond immediately and to ensure that all relevant agencies and services are engaged.

Major Rodane Leung, operations staff officer, Jamaica Defence Force, shares details of how the JDF would provide support if a major earthquake should occur on the island. He was addressing a think tank at the agency's head office on Tuesday.

"To respond in the initial phase, the JCF would establish a command post at the Police Emergency Communication Centre, gather information as to what transpired and provide that information to ODPEM," SSP Bailey said, adding that a senior officer would be assigned to manage the emergency operations centre at ODPEM.

The information collected would also be shared with the Police High Command and all other emergency departments. It will also be used to determine the type of response that will be deployed by the JCF.

"We have the capacity to provide canine support. In the initial phase that would be search and rescue [while] in the recovery phase, to search for the deceased," SSP Bailey said.

In the event of an earthquake, the JCF would also be required to ensure that affected areas are properly cordoned and secured, said the senior police officer.

Acting director general, Office of Disaster Preparedness Emergency Management, Richard Thompson, addresses a think tank at the agency's head office on Tuesday.

"We would have to ensure that routes leading to and from our major hospitals are clear or to provide information as to the clearest and safest routes to and from those hospitals and ensure that they are maintained in a safe manner for the emergency units to respond," he added.

SSP Bailey indicated that overall, the JCF's main activities during an earthquake would be to provide security, safety and to share information not just with the emergency departments but also with the public.

"If we need additional manpower, we would ensure that what we call confinement to barracks, meaning that all police personnel would have to be on duty and remain in the area where they work," he explained.

Like the JCF, the JDF also has dogs to assist in search and rescue.

Students at the Allman Town Primary School in Kingston crouch while covering their heads during an earthquake drill at the school on January 12, 2023.

"We also have our air wing and airlift assets or strategic aircraft that we are able to use to hoist goods [and] equipment as required from one place to another," said Major Rodane Leung, noting that roadways are likely to be blocked or congested, preventing the movement of cargo if an earthquake occurs.

The aircraft is also equipped to move personnel as well as assist the Jamaica Fire Brigade if there is a fire.

Meanwhile, acting director general of the ODPEM, Richard Thompson, said that from a disaster risk management perspective, Jamaica is prone to earthquakes, and as such, it is important that all the major preparedness measures are put in place.

"For us on the preparedness side, we have to ensure that as a country we are prepared, and so from an infrastructural standpoint that's really how you look at the hard side of earthquake preparedness, and on the softer side of earthquake preparedness, you talk about public education and awareness," said Thompson.

He further noted that from the engineering perspective, "we have to ensure that we are hardening our infrastructure and that we are building earthquake-ready infrastructure, especially our public buildings".


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