Earthquake preparedness is earthquake awareness

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The warning that the region is likely to be hit by an 8.0 earthquake is consistent with predictions made previously and they will always be there and continue to be there.

Educator at the National Office of Disaster Preparedness (NODS) Sherrod James made this observation while seeking to allay fears that ‘The Big One’ is imminent. He noted that no one could say with any degree of certainty when an earthquake will happen in the region.

“The interest being expressed now is very good. However, the fear being exhibited in some quarters is counter-productive to the learning process,” James said.

James, whose job at NODS is to educate the public on disaster preparedness, said the essence of preparedness is awareness. He noted that there is only so much one can do to prepare for an earthquake, so that education is key.

The department has an active education unit and James said 95 per cent of schools in Antigua have received training in how to respond during a tremor.  He indicated that the students at TN Kirnon School, having received such instructions, followed them to the letter during the earthquake of November 2007.

“They didn’t panic they did exactly what we told them to do,” he said. “We have been to nearly all the schools in a school year, where the focus is disaster management. We have been focusing on earthquakes as we are trying to instill behavioural changes.

“We have to be cognizant of the hazards that we are face so now we are trying to instill the behaviours and principle to ensure our safety.”

The NODS educator said we live in one of the most active earthquake zones and homeowners should be aware of certain practices, which could be harmful. Among these he cited is how we set out our homes. Cabinets and heavy bookshelves, he said should be bolted to the walls. Heavy ornaments and pictures or all wall fixtures should be hung away from seating areas.

The message of disaster awareness is not new and the NODS representative said, “We were pushing this for quite a while but most persons did not bother with us until Haiti.

“Recent events,” he added, “tend to spike awareness and interest.”

In the area of construction, James said it is extremely important to adhere to building codes and not to cut costs. Reclaimed land, he added, is especially susceptible to seismic movement.

The educator noted that he Caribbean region sits on more than one fault and that he region was formed through tectonic movement and so we can expect it to continue. “It did not stop when the islands were formed.

What is an earthquake?

Meantime the UWI Seismic Research Centre provides this information about earthquakes.

According to the theory of Plate Tectonics, earthquakes are caused by the movement of plates. The Earth’s crust is made up of huge slabs of rock called plates which fit together like an uneven jigsaw puzzle. The region where two or more plates meet is called a plate boundary. The plates are constantly moving but this plate movement is neither smooth nor continuous, rather the plates often lock together causing a build-up of energy. When the plates eventually move out of this locked position the energy that is released may be felt as an earthquake.

Much of the world’s earthquake and volcanic activity takes place along plate boundaries. At these plate boundaries the plates interact with each other in different ways; some of them slide past each other, others spread apart and others move toward each other with crumpling or one dipping beneath the other. This last type of plate boundary is called a subduction zone, which is the main type of plate interaction occurring in the Eastern Caribbean.

On how to keep safe during an earthquake, James is advising everyone to adhere to the Drop Cover and Hold on or DCH principles as well as the tsunami-smart principles. That is seeking higher ground after a strong quake if one is anywhere on the coastline.

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