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Shake up – wake up

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07.DEC.07

The shock waves from last week’s earthquake are still reverberating throughout the Caribbean. Although we all are aware of the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters, our focus seemed to be more on hurricanes, floods and volcanoes – our living experiences, rather than on the subterranean threat. The occasional earth tremor felt was treated more like an amusing scare rather than a serious warning of the danger below.{{more}}

All that has changed, or at least we would hope so, since the events of last Thursday. While, thankfully, the Caribbean was spared major damage, we can no longer ignore the fact that our disaster preparedness, physically and certainly mentally, was lacking with regard to earthquakes. Not even those who have lived through the ravages of hurricanes or the wrath of La Soufriére, seemed to be clear as to how one should react in the event of a major earthquake.

To their credit, some of the national emergency organizations, including our own NEMO, did have some preparedness plans for earthquakes, though not on the same scale as those for the more regular storm threats. By and large, however, it is true to say that the emphasis has not been placed in this direction. It is, therefore, heartening to hear Prime Minister Gonsalves pledging that immediate efforts will be made to repair this deficiency.

In this regard, alongside the logistical and physical preparations, it is important to pay attention to the mental side as well. As happens after every natural disaster, there is a significant amount of superstitious analysis of the causes of that disaster and the reasons why we were spared or suffered major damage. This has its roots in the weak scientific basis of our reasoning and the tendency to attribute all occurrences we do not understand simply to the realm of superstition.

Public education is, therefore, key to any successful efforts at disaster preparedness. A new element has been added to our scope following last week’s events. The shake-up that we experienced must be treated as a wake-up call to address our complacency and grave shortcomings in this area.

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