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Based on probability and statistics, Jamaica is due a major earthquake any time soon.

Scholars across the world believe that major earthquakes in any country tend to occur between 85 - 110 years apart. The last major earthquake to affect the island was the 1907 Port Royal quake. This was 100 years ago. The next major earthquake, which affected the western section of the island, occurred 50 years later in 1957.

Kretchet Greaves, director of information and training at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), told THE STAR, "It is always important to remain in a state of readiness and historically, we've had earthquakes every 50 - 100 years. We're seeing a kind of trend, but it is not for certain. It's just a guide. As a matter of fact, we haven't had a major earthquake in a while, so we need to be alert."

She said the main obstacle that is facing ODPEM is the fact that Jamaicans have become complacent. "Disasters tend to come in a time of complacency and it is unpreparedness that really creates the disaster instead of the hazard itself. Great disasters are born out of complacency and it creates an environment for the kind of disasters that we want to avert. It is likely that we could have an earthquake soon and we are seeing the type of complacency that usually precedes a major disaster. I really think we need to jolt the country out of it."

Great disaster

Greaves told THE STAR that some people are unconcerned about the threat of earthquakes because they cannot really remember experiencing a great disaster. For example, hurricanes Gilbert and Ivan, are still fresh in people's minds.

"We need to get people to prepared for the event, rather than wait on it to come," she said. "We have to find avenues to appeal to the public, using the experiences of others, for example those in the Indian Ocean. We need to look at global and regional experiences, like the 2005 earthquake that affected the Caribbean. We have to prepare people to act in the event of a situation that they don't have direct experience with."

When THE STAR spoke with members of the public, most revealed that they did not take the threat of earthquakes seriously. Sheryl, told THE STAR, "No. I pay more attention to hurricanes because hurricane come every year. It's not a major threat compared to hurricanes, in terms of frequency. Hurricanes are a must, earthquakes are a maybe. And what kind of preparation can I make for an earthquake?"

Major concern

Though admitting that the country has a far way to go in terms of having infrastructure that is ready for earthquakes, she said we have come a long way. "We are better than we were a few years ago. The way they construct business places is much more earthquake-sensitive, as opposed to in 1907. We have made strides but more can be done especially in terms of legislation. The points of concern we have are the inner-city areas, parts of Montego Bay and Kingston and St.Andrew, mainly because of the population density. Port Royal is also a major concern by virtue of its coastal location."

ODPEM recently concluded its annual earthquake awareness week and according to Greaves, the message is getting out there. "We've made an initial impact but we need to sustain it in a real way."

She added also that hope is not lost as "There has been a continuos increase in training requests from churches, service clubs and schools. People are asking us to come in and the numbers are increasing on a monthly basis." She said this a good sign as these organisations reach a lot of people.

However, according to Dr. Margaret Wiggins-Grandison, research fellow and seismologist at the earthquake unit, this notion is based purely on speculation and not scientific fact. She said there is no way to predict when an earthquake will strike, so Jamaicans need to be always alert and prepared. She said, "There is no pattern. It's just a statistic. I wouldn't say there is a set pattern. We haven't had a really major earthquake since 1692, and that was 316 years ago. The trend is sketchy."

Name Changed.

January 30, 2008

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