Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours have never suffered the effects of a tsunami. But we are not ignorant of the devastating impact of this kind of natural disaster.
Most of us can remember the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami that hit 14 countries.
The tidal waves caused by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra claimed 230, 000 lives.
Over the last few days, there has been some discussion about tsunamis in light of the recent spike in activity at the underwater volcano Kick ‘em Jenny that has been under the close watch of experts and local disaster authorities.
In an update today, the Trinidad-based Seismic Research Centre (SRC) of the University of the West Indies reported that there has been a slowing of activity at the volcano located just off Grenada.
However, the alert level remains on orange, signalling that an eruption could occur with less than 24 hours’ notice.
According to Director of the SRC, Professor Richard Robinson, this activity poses no threat to Barbados.
For that we are thankful, and while we take comfort and continue business as usual, we would do well not to miss the lesson that potential natural disasters of all kinds are ever lurking and not merely restricted to the June 1 to November 30 Atlantic hurricane season.
Storms, earthquakes, tsunamis and the like are realities that we must accept and do everything in our power to prepare for, given that disasters are increasing in frequency and severity worldwide as a result of climate change.
In a well-timed move today, Barbados tested its preparedness for a tsunami.
For the first time, the island’s Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) was tested during the Caribe Wave Exercise 2018.
It was based on the scenario of an 8.3 magnitude earthquake generating a tsunami that affected the island.
Just after 10 a.m., email alerts and notifications went out on mobile phones via the CAP app, indicating that a “tsunami warning was issued for Barbados”.
This prompted the evacuation of a number of establishments, including the Mango Bay Hotel, Scotiabank Holetown, the Holetown Police Station and St James Primary School.
At the end of the event, Director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) Kerry Hinds said it was a “moderately successful exercise”, noting that there were some aspects of the system that needed to be improved.
“Today, we had a number of glitches. What the exercise brought out for us was that we need to tweak some aspects of the Common Alerting Protocol system. Some persons indicated that the sounds on their telephones were not loud enough and we have to go back to our natural focal point, which is the MET Office, to clear up some issues there,” she said.
Nevertheless, the initiative should be applauded and serve as a stepping stone for authorities to increase, expand and, where necessary, improve their strategies.
The exercise was also the ideal opportunity for the state to upgrade its information and education programmes.
The fact is, long before the warning is sounded, disaster preparedness must begin.
A good starting point is an assessment of the risk. What areas are most vulnerable? How many people live there? What businesses will be affected? Are response teams adequate to cover areas likely to be hard hit? Where are the shelters? What are the safe areas? How will the island’s water and power supplies be affected?
Once these analyses are done, the authorities can formulate an action plan to lessen the impact and protect citizens.
That is why today’s exercise should be seen as important, and we urge disaster authorities to ensure that critical results are shared with the public to increase awareness and preparedness on a whole.
Today, emergency and disaster officials got a chance to test their skills and, as a result, should be better prepared.
Equally, for civilians who participated, it should have been an eye-opener.
Disaster officials must now look to share this experience with the wider population to ensure all are aware and know how to respond in any eventuality.
Every Barbadian should consider it their duty to inform themselves and their families about how to respond to disasters and make sure that they are prepared.
This can’t happen too soon.