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EDITORIAL - Earthquake readiness, no time to dither

Published:Thursday | March 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Efforts to get Kingston earthquake-ready must be applauded, especially in light of the scale of catastrophe that earthquakes have caused some of our neighbours this year.

Mayor Desmond McKenzie appears to have the big picture in mind, and we congratulate him for the leadership role he is displaying in this regard. We note that he has been engaging stakeholders such as the National Works Agency, the National Water Commission, the Fire Services and the Office of Disaster Preparedness.

Let's not forget, however, that the Kingston metropolis, although the most populous area, is not Jamaica. While it is imperative that public responders be fully prepared, this programme of earthquake readiness has to reach all corners of the island and must include businesses such as farms and tourism interests, schools and hospitals, as well as the ordinary householder.

Our preparations should allow for all kinds of possibilities. Public health-care centres may be rendered inoperative. What are the alternatives? What kind of equipment and medical resources can be sent elsewhere, and quickly? How well can the country deal with a road network that becomes impossible to navigate because of major structural damage? We recall the massive collapse of highways in the 1989 California earthquake and suggest that nothing should be taken for granted.

Given the importance of what is at stake, we advocate that earthquake preparedness, including an audit of bridges and other public works, should immediately be placed on the agenda of every parish council.

But none of this will be effective if the householder does not take care of his home and strive to protect his property. Preparedness ought not to be seen solely as a government responsibility. We cannot predict when the next earthquake will happen or how strong it will be, but if everyone takes seriously the task of securing his own space, death and injury can be minimised. In the same way that we have grown accustomed to preparing for the hurricane season year after year, let us take some of those lessons to heart and get ourselves ready for the next big quake.

The mayor of Kingston speaks of acquiring equipment to measure the soundness and strength of buildings. Even without the benefit of such expensive machinery, it is obvious to any layman that there are several tenement yards scattered across inner-city communities that could not stand up in an earthquake.

Few resources

The mainly poor residents who occupy these hovels may not heed the message because they have so few resources. It means there is an urgent need for an intense education programme to reach those who are most vulnerable and help them prepare for the aftermath of such an event.

Additionally, public electricity supplies may be disrupted in the immediate aftermath, thereby affecting significantly the ability of people to learn via electronic media exactly what is happening and what they should do at that moment. The ubiquitous mobile phones may not be of much help either.

We are more fortunate than our neighbours in Haiti, for now we have a unique opportunity to review our systems and get ourselves ready. Let's not squander this opportunity, for we know not when.

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