MONTEGO BAY, St James — As the country marks Earthquake Awareness Week, chairman of the St James Municipal Corporation’s Disaster Management Committee Arthur Lynch is urging individuals engaged in construction to go through established channels in order to minimise structural risk from earth tremors.
“For persons who want to construct on whatever property, it is imperative that they do so after consulting, in our case, the St James Municipal Corporation building department, to verify that land is suitable for building so that impact of an earthquake can be less,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
Sticking to guidelines provided by local authorities, he said, could mean the difference between structural damage, total loss, or being able to weather quakes.
“Some individuals build, not realising that the land have issues such as being prone to slippages and therefore, in the event of an earthquake, this could put them in a serious situation. Therefore, it is important that they follow the regulations so that these things are avoided,” he added.
According to a fact sheet from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Jamaica is vulnerable to earthquakes because of its “geographic location along the northern margin of the Caribbean plate and the presence of an active fault on the island”.
There were seven felt events in 2022 ranging from 2.90 to 4.10 in magnitude, according to information provided on the Earthquake Unit at The University of the West Indies website.
Lynch, meanwhile, is reminding those planning to engage in construction that there are competent individuals within the municipal corporation who are available to provide guidance and support. Help, he said, is also available after structures go up.
“Our building officers do go around and check for these vulnerabilities,” he said.
He is urging individuals to speak up when they see construction taking place in unsuitable locations such as areas prone to land slippage. The municipal corporation has the power to issue stop orders or call for the demolition of structures found to be in breach.
Lynch is concerned that Jamaicans do not appear overly concerned about natural disasters until they occur.
“We don’t look at natural disasters as an immediate action or something we should always prepare for,” he bemoaned.
For this year’s observance of Earthquake Awareness Week, he said, there will be a general sensitisation campaign. This, he noted, will focus on school visits where students will be told what to do during an earthquake. There will also be an exhibition at the local parish library.
Earthquake Awareness Week runs from January 8 to 14.