Published 14th December 2011, 3:15pm
December 14th is Earthquake Awareness Day. This marks the anniversary of the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred 20 miles south of George Town in 2004. HMCI uses the anniversary of this event to raise public awareness of the threat, and to mark the beginning of our earthquake awareness period, December – February. Deputy Director of Hazard Management, Omar Afflick explains, “The agency will be doing a number of sensitization sessions in schools and we extend the invitation to businesses, service clubs, government offices and other organizations to take the opportunity to schedule sensitization sessions or drills for their organization. If desired, HMCI will also review your disaster plans, discuss other earthquake related threats and provide input for your evacuation and assembly points.”
The threat of an earthquake is real. The occurrence of earthquakes in the Cayman region results from the interaction of the North American plate and the Caribbean plate. These plates slide past each other just to the south of the Cayman Islands at about the speed that a finger nail grows. Unfortunately the movement is not always smooth. Terrific tension builds up when these plates grind past one another and the energy can suddenly release without warning.
When the plates suddenly move in relation to one another, even if the movement is minimal, this can result in an earthquake being experienced in the Cayman Islands. Most of the time the earthquakes are small and generally Cayman residents don’t even feel them, but occasionally a large earthquake will occur and severe ground shaking may result.
HMCI Deputy Director, Omar Afflick explains that, “It is this larger magnitude earthquake that we must be prepared for, we must know how to react in an appropriate way and there are a number of straight forward things that we can do to reduce the risks in the meantime.”
“The first consideration is to establish your family plan. Secondly, go through your home or office and look for potential hazards that could cause injury during an earthquake and reduce these threats. Some of the potential threats might include things like a bookcase that is not secured or attached to a wall, a large picture or mirror above your bed, a heavy light fixture that is not well anchored to the ceiling or rigid pipes connected to propane gas cylinders. It is important to secure items that could potentially fall over or land on you during a period of shaking. Thirdly, practice your response to a seismic event. In order to protect yourself from falling objects you should “Duck, Cover and Hold” and then calmly evacuate the building to an open area away from trees, poles and buildings.”
In January 2010, many residents in Cayman felt a 5.9 Magnitude quake and this resulted in some amount of panic. Afflick says that, “With continued sensitization and drills HMCI is hoping that this panic type response should not occur again. Over the past few years HMCI has been conducting sensitization sessions and drills in both businesses and in the schools. The results have been good. Students are now responding appropriately during the drills, they know what to do, and it hoped that it becomes second nature for them.”
Building on this progress HMCI is planning to conduct more drills in the schools to ensure that both students and teachers know how to respond during an earthquake and for the schools to practice their respective plans. HMCI Deputy Director, Omar Afflick explained, “We want to put the danger of earthquakes on the radar screen of Cayman residents. We prepare for hurricanes, northwesters, floods and things of that nature, but we want people to be just as prepared for earthquakes. There is no advanced warning for an earthquake, so it makes it that much more important that you know what to do.”
Given the fairly recently recorded earthquakes in 2004 and 2010, Omar Afflick believes a lot of residents know what do in an actual earthquake, but he believes they could do more to reduce the threat in their home and work environments.