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BEHIND THE QUAKES - ODPEM to deepen private-sector courtship for earthquake readiness

Published:Friday | March 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor

THE OFFICE of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is to press its suit for private sector buy-in to boost Jamaica's readiness for seismic events.

Among their suitors is the insurance sector, which the state agency hopes to entice to create innovative schemes for disaster coverage, including earthquakes.

"We are looking at greater collaboration with the insurance companies as it relates to developing insurance schemes around disaster risk transfer," acting director general of ODPEM Richard Thompson said, adding that their efforts will build on a foundation that has been years in the making.

"In looking at that kind of collaboration, it is saying [to prospective business clientele] that it is essential to insure because you are not absorbing the risk, you are transferring the risk," he said further.

ODPEM's efforts are in sync with recommendations from Dr Eric Calais in his May 2013 report on his Seismic Risk Exploratory Mission to Jamaica.

The mission was conducted on the island between March 25 and 28 last year, with the support of the United Nations Development Programme.

"It seems that ODPEM could broaden its base, in particular by initiating a closer collaboration with the private sector, in particular the insurance industry, but also the tourism sector, the port authorities, and large companies directly concerned such as PetroJam and JPS," writes the international seismic expert.

Thompson told The Gleaner on Wednesday that while valid, Calais' recommendation was not novel. The ODPEM boss said they have long engaged the private sector on preparedness for earthquakes and other disasters, including the creation of disaster plans and drills, as well as on public education.

"So there is engagement. But there is always a need for more engagement. You always want to have a lot of partners in the process. The more partners you have in the process, the better, since you end up getting more contributions," he said.

It is for this reason that ODPEM is to further its association with the private sector, including in the area of data collection to enhance planning.

"There is a lot of these digital equipment [such as accele-rometers] that we would want to put in buildings, especially high-rise buildings, to get a reading as to how these buildings react under seismic conditions," Thompson said.

Information out of the Earthquake Unit is that the island experiences more than 200 seismic events annually. It is from these events that the data would be generated.

ODPEM is also looking at partnerships to acquire equipment and for technical assistance such as that offered by members of the Jamaica Institute of Engineers in the development of the new building code.

They are seeking, too, to have a greater number of players engaged in business continuity planning to help safeguard their operations and the country's economy following a seismic or other event.

Concerning Calais' recommen-dations for the creation of a "roadmap for seismic safety" and a cost-benefit study that supports it, Thompson said these have been in train. He noted that terms of reference have been prepared for the creation of the National Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Policy and Strategy, which is to include provisions for seismic events. Consultants will begin work once funding is identified.

"You work within budget. A lot of times you have to look at what is going on in the country and look at alternate sources of funding, including your donor community," Thompson said.