Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI) will take part in the regional Tsunami Exercise, Caribe Wave on March 14th. This year’s scenario involves an 8.47 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Panama which subsequently generates a tsunami. The event is modelled by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and results in a tsunami wave of between 3 and 9 feet impacting the Cayman Islands approximately 2 hours after the earthquake occurs.
The area off the coast of Panama is about six hundred miles due south of Grand Cayman and is a known source point for large earthquakes and tsunamis. On September 7th, 1882, a magnitude 8 earthquake occurred in the same area and approximately 100 people drowned in the associated tsunami that submerged the islands of the San Blas Archipelago and the northern coast of Panama.
HMCI was established in 2007 and is responsible for the development and review of various hazard plans. In previous years, HMCI has used the Caribe Wave exercises to test notification procedures to local residents and to validate the issuance of tsunami products from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to the local tsunami focal point and national tsunami warning contacts.
“This year we want to take a different approach and critically examine the response and coordination process between first response agencies,” explained Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI) Director Danielle Coleman. “The exercise commences at 9 am and on that day, we will have 5 cruise ships in Port and thousands of visitors on Seven Mile Beach; obviously we can’t test every aspect of our response plans, so we have chosen to bring together senior level first responders to discuss what could realistically be accomplished within a two-hour window if a tsunami was really heading towards the Cayman Islands” Ms. Coleman added.
It is acknowledged that the challenges in such a situation would be enormous. The intention is to use this year’s scenario to refine the response to such an event. Through an interactive roundtable discussion and collaborative review of the current Cayman Islands Tsunami Plan participating agencies will gain a better understanding of their roles to ensure the safety of the greatest numbers of residents and visitors in the event of a tsunami.
Honourable Tara Rivers, JP, MLA who is responsible for Home Affairs said: “Although to date we have no historical record of the Cayman Islands ever being impacted by a damaging tsunami wave, we do have a responsibility to plan for that possibility. Exercise Caribe Wave will provide first responder agencies an opportunity to come together to critically examine the challenges posed by such an event and to review the current plan, the refinement of which will directly increase the likelihood that lives will be saved if a tsunami occurs.”
HMCI participates in a variety of exercises of this nature annually together with other Government departments and private sector and community stakeholders to ensure an effective multi-agency response to natural disasters and critical incidents.