Officials rule out costly national siren

| 11/01/2018 | 83 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands government will not be investing in a national siren system, despite some public concern that many people missed Tuesday night’s public service messages that the islands were under a tsunami alert following the massive earthquake off the coast of Honduras. Officials from Hazard Management Cayman Islands said that type of alarm is not cost-effective. Instead, the HMCI will be taking a combination of measures, including interruption broadcasts to ensure everyone is alerted when the country is under threat. 

The agency stated that the earthquake on Tuesday night and subsequent tsunami warning brought home the reality that tsunamis can travel with unpredictable speed and impact. HMCI said that, along with government partners, it is taking immediate steps to ensure that Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) messages are noted in a more timely manner and to change its procedures to facilitate rapid dissemination of such notices to all government officials, the media and community leaders.

The agency explained why it does not believe a national public out-door siren system is the best way of alerting the public to potential natural disasters.

“Our analysis, and the experience of our neighbours in other British Overseas Territories, suggests that these systems simply do not provide value for money to small island nations such as our own, as they are extremely expensive to purchase and maintain,” HMCI said Wednesday in a release. “A longer-term solution will be the implementation of a National Emergency Notification System.”

In phase one of the solution, which was signed off by Cabinet in the last financial year, the agency will be given the power to interrupt all radio broadcasts going out on local airwaves with emergency notifications, and that will be implemented over the next three months. Phases two and three, which are still in the planning stages, will facilitate the interruption of television broadcasts and the guaranteed timely delivery of emergency notifications to communications devices.

Officials explained that during last year’s tsunami exercise a serious lag in the receipt of some SMS messages was noted, and HMCI said it is working in collaboration with other public safety agencies, including the Department of Public Safety Communications, telecoms regulator OfReg and various private telecom companies to address the delay and implement all stages of this national system.

But the hazard team acknowledged that out-of-hours emergencies, by nature, pose their own challenges and there is room for improvement in terms of the speed at which they disseminate messages to stakeholders. However, the officials urged people to follow government and HMCI social media pages on Twitter and Facebook so that they receive and have access to any messages sent out.

HMCI said it has been working with the Ministry of Education to implement training for teachers, students and their parents. This has included mock exercises in schools and steps to facilitate timely communication with the wider school communities in an emergency. A school notification system is also in the process of implementation in the event of a threat during school hours.

The agency has been criticized by some about the public notifications on Tuesday night. But HMCI set out its timeline explaining that half-hour after the earthquake sensors in the port of George Town registered a wave of 0.6 feet in height, as a direct result:

  • 9.52pm: The earthquake was originally assessed as measuring 7.8 on the Moment Magnitude Scale, north of Honduras, but was later downgraded to a 7.6 magnitude
  • 9.58pm: Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) tsunami threat message sent via email.
  • 10.07pm: PTWC notification received by HMCI staff.
  • 10.25pm: By this time, key HMCI staff had been notified, headed into the office, and begun outreach to various government officials and media houses.
  • 10.46pm: Discussions with officials and media houses continued and an approved general message to media houses was sent out.
  • 10.48-10.50pm: Message was posted to social media.
  • 12.02am: All clear issued.

Advice in a tsunami is relatively simple: head to higher ground, but advance knowledge and planning is the best resource you have to keep you and your family safe in any emergency. “While crises of the sort that we had last night may be rare we can never tell when they may next occur,” HMCI stated.

Anyone who would like to arrange training for a community group or office can call HMCI at (345) 945-4624.

Information about tsunamis can be found on the HMCI website.

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Comments (83)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations. Someone needs to be held accountable for this mess up bearing in mind the emergency management agency is over ten years old. What exactly have they done and what are their technical capacity and experience do they have planning and implementing any such national system? Didn’t the former Director come from Building Control, and I am hearing the Deputy’s experience was gained here only as a technician. Would you allow a nurse to do the job of your doctor, its the same principle.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Higher ground, what higher ground? Mount trashmore?

  3. Anony says:

    It figures that the most efficient option for getting to us all (since a larger proportion of us carry cell phones rather than spend all day and all night glued to the radio or LOCAL TV) is the last to be considered!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Was there actually a measurable and recorded tsunami threat associated with this event, or was this a knee-jerk presumption with an abundance of caution? Was there a submarine landslide documented? From what we’ve been assured over the years from career geologists, including after the scary localized event in Dec 2004, the tectonic motions in the Cayman Trench Zone are ones of either knock-slide or expansion zone, not a subduction zone or plate rebound situation as would be prevalent in the PTWC theater of expertise. Is there some new geology or volcanic event we aren’t familiar with?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Internet, radio, cell phones – all of that is useless as an alert system because people do not have those turned on 24/7. Sirens are the only effective warning system, albeit that means that someone from the civil service would have to actually monitor any earth quake activity and then roll out of bed to sound the sirens…….

  6. Anonymous says:

    Maybe stop buying the dept heads and deputies full cabin size new pick-up trucks to drive to and from work and there would be more money in the bank to spend on the entire nation rather than a handful of people

    • Anonymous says:

      Not to mention the $$$ Boardwalk coming up soon in South Sound.
      Won’t the first storm wash away that waste of tax funds?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Has it occurred to CIG that if we don’t have an early warning system that works, that they may well end up dead too and unable to spend their ill gotten gains? Or are they that dim?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Any national warning system should not be exclusive to cell phones but should include interruption of all TV and radio programming. Even though we consume foreign TV, it is almost all presented to us via Logic or other local services.

    There should be some over-ride to broadcast emergency messages in at least three media formats (TV, radio and cell phones), nothing less is acceptable.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The government will spend millions on white elephants but pinch pennies when actual public safety is on the line.

  10. Anonymous says:

    ICTA/OfReg, HMCI, RCIPS, and the Meteorological Office under the Ministry of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture need to collaborate with Telecoms to fund a Wireless Emergency Alerts System (WEA) or Commercial Mobile Alerts System (CMAS) like exists in the USA or the NAAD system in Canada.

    In the USA there are three types of alerts:
    1. Alerts issued by the President of the United States
    2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life, either extreme or severe threats
    3. Amber Alerts

    CMAS messages, although displayed similarly to SMS text messages, are always free and are routed through a separate service which will give them priority over voice and regular text messages in congested areas. Customers who have the capability of receiving CMAS alerts (also known as PLAN and WEA) will be automatically signed up by their carrier. If they do not want to participate they may opt to block most CMAS messages; however, CMAS regulations prohibit participating carriers from configuring phones to allow users to opt out of messages issued by the President.

    Public television stations are also required by the FCC to act as a distribution system for CMAS alerts. Within 18 months of receiving funding from the Department of Commerce, all public television stations must be able to receive CMAS alerts from FEMA and transmit them to participating wireless service providers.

    On April 6, 2017, Canada’s telecom regulator, the CRTC, ruled that all wireless carriers in Canada must begin relaying public alerts over LTE wireless networks by April 2018. Canada will use a variation of WEA backed by Pelmorex Media’s National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination (NAAD) system.

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent post but sad your prudent recommendations might have just fried the small minds in Hazard Management. Mobile carriers here surely have no issue with this but if we were to rely on Hazard Management to get word to Flow and Digicel expeditiously we might as well all go back to tin cans and string.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Our safety is not the governments responsibility, and only will make it so when to save face. Keep voting for nothing.

  12. Anonymous says:

    So everyone’s answer for notification is the internet, I have a question humbly and respectfully what if there is a island wide power outage or internet interruption from another source?

    Radio is the most dependable for things like hurricanes relaying messages to hunkered down persons but in the event of needing to quickly relay a message island wide ( like a potential Tsunami (where minutes can make the difference between being swept out to sea and being in shelter) I can’t think of anything better than a loud ass siren

  13. Anonymous says:

    Would have died in my sleep – thanks

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why is radio and TV given the priority whereas cellular notifications are last? Seems a bit backwards to me as a lot of people don’t listen to radio, don’t have local TV but most have mobiles..

    • Anonymous says:

      Especially if it’s the middle of the night.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s classic CIG. Like posting notices on obscure Ministry web pages that nobody views and equating that with fair public notice. Even the DoT spends hundreds of thousands on ads posted blindly to YouTube with only handfuls of click conversions – most of those, probably accidental. We can be assured, based on Standard operating procedure, that whatever comes (that some of our lives may depend on) will be poorly conceived, mismanaged, and overpriced. Let’s hope none of this prep is necessary.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The sirens would be helpful in saving lives. Where is Dart and his dollars, when you need him?

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh, is Mr. Dart the Premier now? or part of CIG? What you really mean despite your nasty and unjustified attack on the biggest investor in these islands, is “why isn’t CIG investing in my safety, with the tax dollars they collect as my elected representatives?”

    • E. Nygma says:

      Everyone hates on Dart till he has something of value that the CIG overlooked
      and then hes our favorite


  16. Anonymous says:

    9 minutes to receive an email????

  17. Anonymous says:

    There is a much easier and its free. For those of you with iPhones, just go to the app store and download and app called QuakeFeed and then configure it as you like. I’m sure there are similar apps in the android app store as well.

    Yes, if its late at night, you might not hear the BING but that also applies to sirens. Who is going to hear them at 2 am in the morning with double glazed windows?

    If enough people had a similar app, I’m sure a few people will either be awake or hear it and then be able to call their friends and like the light speed of gossip in Cayman we will all know about it before government officials.

    • Anonymous says:

      Brilliant…problem solved with internet technology . Thank you!
      I believe Japan has a similar system whereby in such a threat , that all cell phone users get an instantaneous SMS message , possibly an alternative for Cayman too.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not really, the whole point of an early warning system such as sirens is to be heard at all times

        Hard to see a notification on your phone if you are asleep
        Hence while expensive to set up and maintain and repair (due to hurricane related damage, salt corrosion etc) the sirens are the best choice overall

        They could even be multipurpose, specific sirens for specific natural disasters and events (such as all clears for hurricanes and curfew times like we had in Ivan) , but the CIG would rather pay cellular service providers than take things into their own hands
        Then if there is any problem with the SMS warning system they are free of blame
        They can just say “Flow and Digicel messed up, so blame them for your relatives that got swept away”

        Talk to your representatives, tell them if they are willing to spend untold millions on cruise berthing they better be ready to spend the money to keep the populous informed and alert for emergencies otherwise the tourists might arrive to a ghost island inhabited by rotting corpses

        • Anonymous says:

          Agreed. I’m not sure what could be more democratic than a siren. They could be used for other emergencies as well.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have an app. I knew about the quake within seconds. Problem is, I didn’t know what to do then. Was there a tsunami threat? Do I sleep on the roof. Who do I call?

  18. West bay Premier says:

    I would like to say to the Government . In the case of an emergency, what and who is the most important, money or the People ?
    When it comes to the safety of the People in the case of emergency warning signs you shouldn’t depend on one source and one source only . What IF everyone is not tuned into a Radio, or TV , or cellular phone . In an emergency people need to know NOW not 30 minutes later because that would be too late .

    But for the Government to say that a siren warning don’t work and is not necessary for the safety of human life . Then I would tell them quit talking about the cruise ship dock and get their heads out the sand .

  19. Anonymous says:

    we need a tsunami watning fir the huge wave of bills we face each month….just to maintain the romans and caesar….??

  20. Anonymous says:

    social media has this covered….and if you are not on internet,, someone will be touch

    • Anonymous says:

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. Please find another line of work. And get off that silly social media high before you become permanently depressed.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Once the hysteria dies down from from this near miss, the government will likely go back to being unprepared for anything other than a hurricane

  22. Anonymous says:

    All this time and they don’t have the infrastructure in place for mass communications such as interrupting radio and TV signals with important messages and information

    Right in the path of major hurricanes and they didn’t think that something like this would be useful beforehand

    This is the kind of stuff that should come before a glorified cement slab sticking out into the ocean and destroying our marine environment

  23. Anonymous says:

    We don’t need a WW2 siren from the 1940s to wake everyone up with a false threat. ICTA/OffReg should require telecoms to send all phones an emergency broadcast message. Every other jurisdiction in the world can figure this out but us – even after HMCI were specifically tasked with preparing this system in a Caribbean wide exercise last spring and still failed resoundingly. During the hurricane in Miami, my phone chirped with a unique noise and the EMS hurricane evacuation warning message every half hour or so, and that was without a roaming domestic SIM for the area or triggering any roaming fees.

    • Unison says:

      Agreed. I would go as far as to RING all phones with an automated message. Just sending a simple beep message won’t work for some people including the elderly …

      Yes, I can see it now, when everything goes back normalcy, and the matter is brought before the LA, don’t be surprised it doesn’t become law because IT IS TOO COSTLY. Wait and see. They spent enough money on CCTV camaras to watch us, I am sure they can muster enough funds for a national ring-phone system.

    • Anonymous says:

      The government says that they are trying to not force private entities to do anything with laws ( Maybe Unison has some libertarian sway in the government?)
      AKA private interests come before public safety
      Thanks Alden and Company
      If there had been any deaths under your watch, the blood would have been on your hands

    • Fred the pie maker says:

      This was 10 at night. What if it was 3 am. What about people who don’t actually have mobile phones or internet – there are some you know. A siren would work 24/7 And at least tell you something was going on- wake you up and make you turn on your tv or radio or ask your neighbour. But CIG thinks that placing sirens is more expensive and less effective than paying a million bucks to the cell phone companies to send a text thAt many people will simply sleep through.

  24. Anonymous says:

    The Government couldn’t care less if thousands of people die in Cayman for the lack of a simple solution. Priorities are arbitrary as usual with a PPM-led Government.

    • Anonymous says:

      Sorry. But the biggest waste of money right now is the piers, and both UDP and PPM equally to blame there. To be honest, neither is better than the other they are just two different evils!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Where’s Uncle Dart when we need him?! And i bet each siren station could be sponsored for maintenance (similar to roundabouts)

  26. Anonymous says:

    I knew about the warning because it popped up on my news feed. Even with advance knowledge of the warning the island is only 5 feet above sea level there would be no where to go if it was significant. I just went to sleep…

    • Anonymous says:

      The highest natural point of Grand Cayman is over 70 ft above sea level, but don’t let the truth get in your way!

  27. Diogenes says:

    Don’t worry Cayman
    F*** public safety
    We get Cruise Berthing

  28. Inspector Clouseau says:

    That’s ludicris, the text didn’t work, the radio and television wont be effective at night.

    Oh wait, I forgot, our lives don’t value that much. No need to have that effective tool as it will just cost too much to maintain.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Ok.but they have funds to build a 3$million halfmile boardwalk for elites in South Sound by this summer!?
    Priorities people.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I received no warning, and little reassurance from the proposed policy. Not everyone watches tv/listens to local radio/has internet or uses social media. Especially not the youngest and oldest in our society. Even if everyone did, what good would that be compared to a national siren if we’re all tucked up in bed sleeping?

  31. Anonymous says:

    Can we include in the timeline at what time the wave .6 feet high was registered in the port? This would give a good indication if the HMCI would have had enough time to actually notify people (in the case that there was an actual threat)?

    • Burt says:

      around 10.30pm

      • Fred says:

        Quarter of an hour before HMCI sentout any message, and over 49 minutes after the e mail message from the warning centre popped up on my phone and presumably their system – subscriptions to the warning service is free to anyone who wants to register for it BTW. Which makes you wonder why they want to spend a million on a device available FOC.

  32. Anonymous says:

    What is the cost exactly, as compared to the insane port project? One cannot help but wonder if they are putting personal agendas and greed ahead of safety of country and people.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Seriously? I felt the quake, went immediately to USGS then and saw that the potential wave would hit Cayman by UTC 3:33 (10:33 pm Cayman time). So the tsunami would have hit while the HMCI staff was headed to the office, good to know. I went to the HMCI website and there was nothing. Also, can someone expalin to me why the tsunami warning boy is in GT Harbour? Does this give us any advanced warning?

    • Anonymous says:

      And when HMCI finally did a message / notice it was a cut and paste from somewhere else. They didn’t even provide local time of event! How many people even know what “UTC” is? What is it that HMCI does? And who is the “Dept. of Public Safety Communications”?
      There is technology to cause mobile phones to “alarm” for such emergencies!
      Why did HMCI need to “go to the office” to decide on even any notification?

    • Anonymous says:

      There is only a trickle of ocean data coming from our part of the Caribbean Sea.

      NOAA Station 42057 would have been only minutes closer to the epicenter on the Nicaraguan Rise at 16.908N 81.422W…not much help.

      NOAA Station 42056 at 19.918N 84.938W near Cozumel would have recorded the wave height after it had already hit us.

      NOAA Station 42089 at CCMI on Little Cayman is a coral observation site and not generating regular data of this kind.

      We should try to get some kind of anchored NOAA station installed at the West Cayman Rise at Misteriosa or Rosario Banks, Swan Island, and/or Pedro Bank, and perhaps another at the Pickle Bank. Not cheap to install or service.

    • Anonymous says:

      GT Harbour does not have a tsunami warning bouy. What they have (AFAIK) is a tide gauge which will pick up tsunami’s (unexpected high tides) but the predictions are purely mathematical models based on size, etc., of the earthquake. (HMCI, or someone else in CIG, was supposed to have gotten a seismograph a few years back. That’s what you use for noting earthquakes and predicting tidal waves.)

  34. Anonymous says:

    45 minutes to decide on a message? Everybody would be dead by then.

    • Anonymous says:

      By a wave projected to arrive at a height of 1-3 feet? Get a grip.

      • Fred says:

        And if it had been a 30ft wave? You are using the benefit of hindsight to gloss over the fact that they have no effective mechanism for warning people of real crises, especially on a that occur outside the normal working day.

  35. Anonymous says:

    We don’t need the sirens, we need the forced SMS “Alert” system that most civilized places have…when in the US I have received several of those from my Cayman number, albeit they were related to the state I was in. We have the technology, just work with the providers to make it work. Radio or TV is useless unless you are listening or watching it when it happens. These things have a habit of occurring at night…most people have a mobile in the near vicinity at most times. And you hear those alerts, believe me.

    • Inspector Clouseau says:

      Im sure it will work, how many individuals will hear a text message at 1am????

      The text might work if you receive it between 8am – 9pm but, I didn’t receive the “test text” from last March. A more effective alert system has to be enabled to properly inform the public.

      • Lo-Cal says:

        One summer in Orlando both my mobile phone (Local Number) and car radio started blaring a tornado warning as there was one in my area. How much does technology like that cost?

      • Anonymous says:

        The EMS broadcast messages are very different from normal SMS texts. There is an accompanying unique “shrill” attn-getting noise from your phone and you can’t accidentally mute it. I got a few in Florida while trying to fly back after AA cancelled their flights.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you haven’t experienced this particular kind of emergency text message in other countries, it does not come through like a regular text. They typically ring and vibrate your phone aggressively, as well as every person’s phone in the house. It is actually extremely effective and difficult to sleep through.

      • Anonymous says:

        I mute/switch off my phone when I go to bed at night. The only noise I would hear would be my alarm the following morning.

        • Anonymous says:

          It will alarm you also on mute.
          You should reconsider turning your phone off then if you live on an Island and have concerns missing important warnings. No sirene system will wake up the entire island.
          In today’s time your cell is simply the most efficient solution. This is the warning tone of an Amber/Energency alert, trust me – you wake up…

          Maybe Gov needs to talk to our cell providers – I am sure this is not too hard to set up…

          • Anonymous says:

            Thanks I didn’t know about that and see your point. I usually mute/switch off because of calls from abroad / charging but I see the point in keeping it on and muted with this system.

      • Anonymous says:

        Its not like an SMS signal…the tone is incredibly loud until you turn it off, and it pierces your eardrums too. I was in a restaurant in NYC once and an Amber alert went out on a missing child…the noise was incredible, from every mobile phone in the are just going to have to believe me that you will hear it.

    • Cheese Face says:

      I wear earplugs at night because the freaken roosters won’t STFU. Step #1 CIG, sort oot tha farm animals!

      • Anonymous says:

        Lol ?. I know many who use earplugs for the same reason. Roosters crow day and night round here.

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