The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) will launch its first education campaign to raise awareness about earthquake and tsunami during national Tsunami Awareness Week next week.
On Tuesday, the education campaign kicks off with the debut of the Youth Tsunami Public Service Announcement (PSA) featuring Ivanna Eudora Kean High School students. Ivanna Eudora Kean High School won VITEMA’s Youth Tsunami PSA Competition which was held in January as part of the education campaign and to engage Virgin Islands youth in disaster preparedness.
The PSA was produced by St. Thomas-based Lambert Media Team and will debut on VITEMA.gov and then aired on local television from April to March 2014.
The Youth Tsunami PSA is part of a series that also includes a Spanish-language PSA produced by St. Croix’s Aqua Media LLC, which will also begin airing in April, and a tsunami sign education PSA to be aired by the start of August.
In addition to PSAs, VITEMA has coordinated Tsunami Awareness training for schools and government agencies, including the Department of Human Resources, and will provide presentations to various communities about the risk of tsunami and how to be ready. VITEMA is also slated to participate in FEMA’s Region II Tsunami Functional Exercise which is designed to validate catastrophic earthquake/tsunami plans for the region. This major exercise is scheduled for May and will also include Puerto Rico.
“Since 2009, VITEMA has expanded its readiness mission from hurricane-centric to preparedness for all types of hazards, natural and manmade, including earthquake and tsunami,” said Elton Lewis, VITEMA Director. “Our major concern is that, unlike a major storm or hurricane, a local tsunami could reach our coastline within minutes. There is no time to prepare only to react. Public education is crucial. It’s extremely important that everyone understands how to respond.”
“Everyone should now that in the event of strong earthquake – duck, cover under something sturdy, and hold on until the shaking stops,” Lewis said. “The natural warning sign of a tsunami is a receding shoreline. At that point, if you are near the shoreline, the only option is to run for higher ground as fast as you can. The public should also be aware that the All Hazards Warning Siren System is in place and operational, and will activate in the event a tsunami warning has been issued for the Virgin Islands.”
The US Virgin Islands is geographically located in one of the world’s most seismically active regions, experiencing more than 1,000 tremors annually. In 1867 a major earthquake generated a local tsunami that reached the shores of our islands within 10 minutes and 30 lives were lost. In the late 1860s most laborers worked at plantations in land. Today, however, our shorelines are filled with businesses, residential communities and schools and main port is lined with cruise ships.
VITEMA continues to enhance the Territory’s readiness posture through planning, training and exercising for all hazards, especially catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis, is a critical and essential component of the Territory’s preparedness for these rare but high impact events.
Tsunami Signage and Sirens
In 2012, VITEMA purchased 100 tsunami hazard zone and evacuation route signs to be installed in densely populated areas including the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted, St. Croix, and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. Currently, VITEMA is working to secure contracts for installation of the signs. VITEMA is also in the process of purchasing an additional 11 outdoor warning sirens for the Virgin Islands, which will be divided between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
VITEMA Participates in NOAA’s Caribbean-wide Tsunami Exercise
On Wednesday, the Virgin Islands joined other localities in the Caribbean as a participant in a NOAA tsunami response exercise designed to evaluate local tsunami response plans, increase tsunami preparedness, and improve coordination throughout the region.
The exercise, titled CARIBE WAVE/LANTEX 13, simulated a major earthquake and tsunami generated 57 miles north of Oranjestad, Aruba, in the Caribbean Sea at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, generating a widespread Tsunami Watch and Warning event for the Caribbean.
As part of the exercise scenario, VITEMA’s 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centers — upon notification from the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center and Puerto Rico Seismic Network — exercised their notification procedure, notifying first responders and officials at Government House and VITEMA. VITEMA also silent-tested the warning sirens, verifying the sirens were able to receive the signal to activate.
VITEMA also held a tsunami tabletop exercise with Emergency Operation Centers (EOC) managers and Emergency Support Function (ESF) Coordinators who represent various government agencies and non-government organizations. The tabletop exercise allowed participants to discuss operational plans in the event of a tsunami watch and warning, including notification procedures, evacuation, and continuity of operations.
The exercise was sponsored by the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami and other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (ICG/CARIBE EWS) of the IOC of UNESCO, the Caribbean Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Coordination Centre for Prevention of Natural Disasters IOC Technical Series, 101 Annex VIII – in Central America (CEPREDENAC), the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and by the U.S. National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP), a partnership of 29 States and territories and three federal agencies.
The WCATWC is currently responsible for providing tsunami information to the Atlantic coasts of U.S. and Canada, the Gulf of Mexico coast, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands while the PTWC is the interim Regional Tsunami Watch Provider for the other countries in the Caribbean Sea and Adjacent Regions.