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Cayman Islands Government

HMCI Tsunami Threat Response

Agency takes action to speed up emergency communications.

Following an earthquake north of Honduras late last night (Tuesday, 9 January 2018) the Cayman Islands was placed under a tsunami threat for around two hours.

Just over a half-hour after the incident, sensors in the port of George Town registered a wave of 0.6 feet in height, as a result of the quake.

Following understandable interest by the public, Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI) would like to share the timeline of its response to the situation which had the potential to become an out-of-hours emergency.

9.52 p.m. The earthquake was originally assessed as measuring 7.8 on the Moment Magnitude Scale, north of Honduras, but was later downgraded to a 7.6 magnitude

9.58 p.m. Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) tsunami threat message sent via email.

10.07 p.m. PTWC notification received by HMCI staff.

10.25 p.m. By this time, key HMCI staff had been notified, headed into the office, and begun outreach to various government officials and media houses.

10.46 p.m. Discussions with officials and media houses continued and an approved general message to media houses was sent out.

10.48-10.50 p.m. Message was posted to social media.

12.02 a.m. All clear issued.

As this situation has brought home, tsunamis travel with unpredictable speed and impact. Accordingly, HMCI and its Government partners are taking immediate steps to ensure that PTWC messages are noted in a more timely manner and to change its procedures to facilitate rapid dissemination of such notices to all Government officials, the media and community leaders.

A longer-term solution will be the implementation of a National Emergency Notification System. Phase One – Radio Interrupt, was signed off by Cabinet in the last financial year and will be implemented within the next three months.

This phase of the long-awaited project will allow Government to interrupt radio broadcasts with emergency notifications. Phases two and three, which are still in the planning stages, facilitate the interruption of television broadcasts and the guaranteed timely delivery of emergency notifications to communications devices.

A serious lag in the receipt of some SMS messages was noted during Government’s annual tsunami preparedness exercise in 2017.

HMCI is working in collaboration with other public safety agencies including the Department of Public Safety Communications, telecoms regulator OfReg, and various private telecoms companies to implement all stages of this national system.

HMCI is aware that there has been some public discussion surrounding the installation of a national siren system. Unfortunately our analysis, and the experience of our neighbours in other British Overseas Territories, suggests that these systems simply do not provide value for money to small island nations such as our own, as they are extremely expensive to purchase and maintain.

At this point, we feel it is also important to mention the Ministry of Education, with whom we have been working for some time to implement training for teachers, students and their parents. This has included mock exercises in schools, and steps to facilitate timely communication with the wider school communities in an emergency.

A school notification system is also in the process of implementation in the event a threat is faced during school hours.

Out-of-hours emergencies, by nature, pose their own particular challenges and we acknowledge that there is room for improvement in terms of the speed at which we disseminate messages to stakeholders.

As part of this effort, we want to encourage members of the public to follow government and HMCI social media pages on Twitter and Facebook to ensure that they have access to any messages sent out via those channels.

Finally, HMCI refers the public to educational material on tsunamis, which is available from our website

Advice in a tsunami is relatively simple: head to higher ground, but advance knowledge and planning is the best resource you have to keep you and your family safe in any emergency. While crises of the sort that we had last night may be rare we can never tell when they may next occur.

Accordingly, if you would like to arrange training for your community group or office please contact HMCI at (345) 945-4624.

For further information contact: Jamie Hicks