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HMCI admits emergency response must improve following tsunami

Hazard Management Cayman Islands leaders Wednesday (10 January) admit they must improve their emergency response time following Tuesday’s (9 January) tsunami

They say, however, there are limitations to what they can do right now. 

“Less than 30 minutes to try to get information out to the public, it’s almost unrealistic,” Hazard Management Cayman Islands’ Awareness and Communications Officer Simon Boxall said. 

Those at HMCI spent much of the day dealing with criticism about what some call a slow reaction to notify the public about the prior day’s earthquake off the coast of Honduras and subsequent tsunami threat. 

“We’re the first to admit our response could have been better,” HMCI Acting Director Danielle Coleman said. “We need to be quicker when we talk about tsunamis because there’s such a small time frame that we have to act in. Like last night, for example. It was 45, 50 minutes and we have to get that message out immediately.” 

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake happened around 9:52 p.m., triggering tsunami emergency alert systems across the region. 

“We didn’t get the first message from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center until 10:07 p.m.,” Mr. Boxall said. “So again, we’ve lost 15 minutes there. So now we’re talking about the wave potentially impacting us in 20, 25 minutes.” 

It wasn’t until nearly an hour after the quake HMCI first put out a Facebook post and press release about the tsunami threat. By that time, the wave had already been detected in the Cayman Islands area and the tsunami threat advisory had been lifted. 

“These rapid onset events where you have less than a half an hour to get the message out, we’re just not able at the moment to do that efficiently and effectively,” Mr. Boxall said. 

Right now, there is no system in place for Government to warn a large group of residents about an emergency. 

“I think it just re-emphasises what we’ve been saying for a while — we need a mass emergency warning system,” Mr. Boxall said. “We’ve identified that there is a lack, if you want, or a deficiency or something that’s missing. I think the public needs to be informed if a threat is coming their way and I think it’s reasonable. So we’re gonna work on finding that solution and we’re gonna make it happen. 

Click here to find out more about HMCI’s three-phase plan to roll out a new mass emergency notification system. 

About the author

Kevin Morales

Kevin Morales

Cayman 27 News Director Kevin Morales is an award-winning journalist with more than 12 years of experience. Kevin is a Milwaukee, Wis., native. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2005 from the University of Minnesota. He's a proud father and a loyal fan of the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks and U of M Golden Gophers.

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