Emergency warnings to include mobile app

| 12/02/2020 | 55 Comments

(CNS): Phase II of the National Emergency Notification System (NENS) will include the creation of a new mobile alert application, which will be implemented in the next three months, officials said following a special meeting of the National Security Council last week. The public will be able to download the app free of charge and receive real time emergency notifications directly to their phones. Phase II will also enable simultaneous warning messages to be delivered via SMS, emails and social media.

In addition, Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI) and Government Information Services will shortly embark on a campaign to provide visual materials, such as wall posters, with clear instructions on what to do before, during and after earthquakes and tsunamis. These will be posted on classroom walls and in key locations, such as hospitals and civic centres. 

In the wake of the earthquake that struck the territory on 28 January, the National Security Council (NSC) held the debriefing meeting on Tuesday, 4 February, chaired by Governor Martyn Roper, to discuss Cayman’s capability to deal with sudden onset disasters.

The council was briefed by HMCI Director Danielle Coleman on the government’s response to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning, according to a release about the meeting. The problem of traffic congestion following the event was highlighted as well as the challenges of providing effective early emergency notifications to the public.

The council agreed to a major step-up in the public information programme run by HMCI, especially providing more advice to the public on how to prepare for and react to earthquakes and tsunami warnings.

One area of complaint following the earthquake was the confusion at the schools. However, the release stated that HMCI has expanded the existing school’s hazard awareness programme to include teachers and principals so they are fully aware of the appropriate response and safety procedures.

“There has been a dramatic increase in requests from both the private and public sector entities for awareness sessions,” officials said. “A regional tsunami exercise is scheduled for March, which will test both the national mechanism and provide opportunities for broad community participation.”

The council endorsed the work that has been undertaken by HMCI in collaboration with the Governor’s Office, the Department of Public Safety Communications, the ICTA and other key agencies to implement second phase of the NENS.

While Phase I concentrated on radio broadcasts to inform the public of emergency situations, Phase II will broaden the number of communication channels available to disseminate emergency messages in order to reach the maximum number of individuals at once.

The release stated that after a fire at the SOL fuel storage facility in July 2017 and the subsequent alert of a potential tsunami threat following an earthquake north of Honduras in January 2018, it was apparent that the mechanisms relied upon historically to alert the public, like press releases, radio and TV advisories, were not adequate in sudden onset situations.

As a result, government made provisions in the Disaster Preparedness and Hazard Management Law (2019 Revision) for the establishment of the National Emergency Notification System and funding was committed for the implementation of Phase I.

Officials said that, with the Phase I technology already in place, HMCI successfully interrupted all radio station broadcasts to alert the public to the earthquake and to advise that hazardous tsunami waves were possible for the Cayman Islands within two minutes of receiving the official Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre notification. The message also included instructions to safeguard the public.

Lessons learned from both the earthquake on 28 January, the upcoming tsunami exercise and the process of debriefing the clusters with operational responsibilities in the National Emergency Operations Centre will provide opportunities to identify gaps and strengthen the overall response mechanism.

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Comments (55)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I switched from smart phone to basic, the most primitive flip phone to reclaim my life. I don’t take incoming calls. Leave a message on my landline phone. The planet Earth didn’t stop turning.

    • Anonymous says:

      The SMS (text messaging) to be implemented in Phase II, would reach even your primitive flip phone! The App would not. HMCI should focus on the SMS messaging implementation as the top priority, over the App that could come as a later refinement.

  2. Anonymous says:

    3 foot high tsunami facts.

    First of all it is not a wave-the entire sea comes on shore and keeps going.
    A cubic yard of water weighs about a ton.
    3foot tsunami is a yard high by multiple yards deep and wide.
    3 foot tsunami travels significantly faster than 3 foot wave.
    Would feel like being hit by multiple cars simultaneously.

    • Anonymous says:

      When it comes to small islands in deep water surrounded by reefs these are alternative facts.
      Try googling reefs and tsunamis.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What about all those folks at the beach or in the water, without their cell phones in their hands or pockets? An island wide alert siren would notify all there was something going on, not only those few who were lucky enough to have downloaded the app who reside on island.

    • John says:

      They already have the structures in place to start. All of the cell phone towers can be outfitted with sirens with the public taught the treat tones. And forget about renting space. It’s a national license.

  4. Anonymous says:

    if cig are in charge of sending the warning we are all doomed.
    safe bet is to get on google asap….

  5. Anonymous says:

    in most countries – the warning system simply sends a text to all phones registered on the network. No need to download some “app” and everyone (including visitors) gets instant notification. It couldn’t be simpler!

    • Anonymous says:

      And in all the Cayman Islands, a broadcast text (SMS) message to mobile phones is free of cost to the recipient mobile phone user – so even those with “no credit” on their prepaid phone plans, would still get the broadcast SMS messages.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We have our own protocols and won’t be relying upon HMCI for their erratic post-obvious instructions. They don’t possess any predictive data, analysis, tools, or advice that would be of any assistance, and shouldn’t pretend they do. Pretending in an emergency is more dangerous than anything else.

  7. Anonymous says:

    About time! Long overdue!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Who is developing the app?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Who is going to generate the content? Therein lies the problem.
    After the recent earthquake, the USGS issued a tsunami warning for our area for “a possible tsunami wave of .3 to 1.0 meters in height” coming from the east. A 1-3 foot wave is hardly a panic situation. Our “Experts” at Cayman Prepared took that warning and published their own local warning which included the following wording: “…it is likely that a Tsunami was generated…move away from coastal areas…evacuate vertically in strong strong multi story buildings…”. They left out the little detail that the wave was expected to be no bigger than 3 feet. Hence the panic on the roads. A little common sense and a lot less sensationalism would have gone a long way to calm everyone down.

    • Anonymous says:

      Are you kidding?! The warning is what is important. besides who can accurately predict this stuff? I say it would be better to be coming down the stairs of a tall building after a non-event than to be trying to get back to shore after a wave carry us into the north sound. Also, people were on the road because we did not have a proper plan and nothing to do with sensationalism. You’re great now with your silly comment, because we are 2 weeks removed. I bet that day you were at the highest building in Cayman and happy it was only 1 – 3 feet.

      • Anonymous says:

        Actually no. I received the USGS update before the Cayman warning and was aware of the predicted wave height. Cayman is basically a mountain top with no shelf for a tsunami wave buildup. We also have diverging plates which make a tsunami highly unlikely. It was irresponsible of CIG to tell 60,000 people to find “strong strong” multi-storey building space in a hurry. Good luck with that.

        • Anonymous says:

          That myth about needing a shelf is just that – a myth. The strength of a tsunami is carried underwater until it reaches shallow water and it shifts to above water. That just means we got less time to see it from land. But that has nothing to do with the fact that it is coming. The amount or strength of the wave is depended on the size of the event (earthquake) and amount of water displaced not that we have deep water until closer to shore. You go play hero then and stay on the road in your non-panic mode and we shall collect you out at sea. There is more than enough buildings for everyone to at least get to a 2nd floor building. And although some would not survive a wave, it better than being in a single story. What are you suggesting, they stay calm and not attempt to at least get to some multi-storey building, because we have deep water?

        • Anonymous says:

          You wouldn’t necessarily know if there was a land slip on either side of the Cayman Trench. Warnings will fall on dead ears if this ever happens. Your logic is like a sieve.

        • HMCI says:

          The first message that was issued by the USGS was at 2:34 so it is not possible you received it prior to the first warning issued by HMCI (2:19 pm). Also the USGS does not issue any information about tsunami wave height.
          In addition to a divergent plate boundary, the Cayman Islands is also located close to a transform plate boundary (and it was along this second plate interaction that the 7.7 event occurred).
          Finally the comment about lack of shelf area ignores the 10 square miles of shallows in North Sound and some fairly extensive areas of shelf off South Sound and East End.
          The historical record for the Caribbean Sea shows that close to 95 Percent of fatalities (from tsunamis) were caused by submarine landslides generated by earthquakes along the transform plate boundary line (Caribbean / North American plate) not from events in the Subduction zone (in the Eastern Caribbean), not saying that a tsunami can’t be greater from that region (it certainly can) but the evidence (the record) informs us that we cannot discount the possibility of tsunamis being generated along the transform (strike slip) plate interaction such as we have due south of the Cayman Islands.

    • Anonymous says:

      Idiot. 1-3 foot wave is in actuality the entire sea coming at you at constant speed dragging everything it displaces along. You or your child would be knocked off your feet in no time, injured by debris and drowned.

    • BeaumontZodecloun says:

      Unesco sent me an email 7 minutes after the earthquake. I think we can assume a tsunami warning for any temblor that occurs in the water. I was blessed that I was home with my family at the time of the earthquake. I believe there is a less likelihood of a tsunami on our fault, given the type of EQ s we get; the last time we had a 7.0 or above anywhere on our plate was in 1911.

      I think this event was a blessing. Nobody injured, and we now have this in our awareness, the very real possibility of another earthquake. If you elect to stock up on things you regularly use, you save money.

      I look forward to the technological alert, but while we are waiting, feel free to check out IOC/Unesco: http://itic.ioc-unesco.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=1437&Itemid=1437

      Somebody suggested using FLOW in conjunction with an emergency alert. FLOW is able to text us all tons of free advertising. I think they should be tasked with emergency response also. Perhaps then it wouldn’t irritate us quite as much when they are trying to raffle a boat.

      • HMCI says:

        Really appreciate the comment about stocking up with emergency supplies (especially non perishable food and water) not just for hurricane season alone.
        The comment about the last time there was Magnitude 7 or above on the Caribbean / North American plate (strike slip boundary) being back in 1911 may not be correct however; there was 7.5 M near Swan Islands in 2018, a 7.3 M earthquake hit in the same area back in 2009. There were other Mag 7 or above in 2010 (Haiti), 8.1 M in 1946 (Dom Rep) and a 7.1 M event in 1918 (Puerto Rico) etc.

    • HMCI says:

      Just to clarify: the USGS does not issue tsunami warnings. Tsunami messages come from the PTWC (with the first message coming out at 2:17 pm). Additionally the first earthquake notification from USGS came out at 2:34 (24 minutes after the earthquake occurred).
      A tsunami wave is very different from a regular wave (wave length is extremely long – usually measured in miles from trough to crest in the deep sea environment, and entire water column is moving from surface to sea floor, and it is a series of waves). The initial message from the PTWC does not provide an estimate of wave height. It is a computer generated solution only that states that – based on estimated magnitude that it is possible that a tsunami has been generated – this is also necessary because sometimes the earthquakes cause the secondary effect of submarine landslides, slips and slumps (which may result in more localized tsunami waves). The second message from the PTWC benefits from a review of the event by a seismologist and includes wave heights but there is still inherently uncertainty with this message which is normally issued by the PTWC within 25 minutes of an event). The third and all subsequent messages are all based on actual readings (evidence) from the network of sea level monitoring gauges (in this case ours in Cayman was the first gauge triggered because it was closest). Shortly after the GT gauge confirmed the wave height HMCI began lowering the level of the alert stating that (in this case) the likelihood of a dangerous wave impact was low.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Will the app work for people who don’t have data?

    • Anonymous says:

      Mi nah haff no credit.

      • Anonymous says:

        Not everyone has data plans on their phones, some people actually use them only as a phone so hopefully there would be a text alert sent. When you visit the US and an Amber alert goes out for a child all phones in the area get the text, it actually surprised us on our Cayman phones (which incidentally had roaming turned off) at the time.

    • HMCI says:

      No. That is why HMCI is developing multiple methods to distribute emergency alert messages. The first method developed was the radio interrupt system. The App is one part of a much larger effort underway to establish a broad based National Emergency Notification System. Eventually we hope to implement a cell broadcast alert system (like amber alerts in the US) and when that comes on line you will not be dependent on data to get an alert message on your phone.

  11. Anonymous says:

    “HMCI has expanded the existing school’s hazard awareness programme to include teachers and principals so they are fully aware of the appropriate response and safety procedures.”

    Kind of crazy they weren’t included initially…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Do the local data networks have the capacity to handle the additional traffic? I personally was not able to use one of the local data networks to connect with my family members for a period of time after the earthquake. Also, I can imagine that some people would have concerns around having a government created or sponsored application running on the smartphones.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The internet held up but cell service was overloaded. Much more bandwidth than cell service for faster response to everyone. I believe the marketing messages from Flow, etc. are rolled out in phases due to limited bandwidth. Remember KaaBoo when it overloaded the cell system?

    • Anonymous says:

      Kaboo organizers used jammers, that the Digicel guy at their “ironic” booth pointed out, on top of containers when we asked. All he did was field service complaints for two days!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Our on trend 7.7Mag, and dozens of closer aftershocks (still going) should demonstrate that HMCI needs to take fault line living more seriously. We should have multi-band seismographs in Cayman Brac, East End, George Town, and a remote sensor buoy anchored on Misteriosa Bank, which by the way, should be formally annexed by our coast guard as our fourth island. The USGS Earthquake desk in Golden CO, will not necessarily sense anything local to Cayman below 4.2Mag, which explains non-reporting of dozens of our aftershocks. We have to look after ourselves like we matter.

  15. GR says:

    Assuming the networks are actually working! Flow was down for about 5 minutes after the earthquake

    • Anonymous says:

      mobile data was fine

    • Anonymous says:

      I have no problem with mobile network after earthquake

    • Anonymous says:

      Flow was down for about 15 mins. A govt inquiry needs to be made into why this happened and how to prevent it in future incidents.

      • Anonymous says:

        Are you really sure “Flow was down for about 15 mins.”? Misdiagnosis leads to wrong treatments!

        More likely, all phone call circuits on the mobile networks were already in use when you or your calling party were attempting to make a call. If you had sent a text, most likely it would have gotten through a lot faster because (a) unlike a phone call, a text message does not need a real-time live audio end-to-end connection between the two phones; text messages are “store & forward”; and (b) a text message needs only MUCH MUCH less bandwidth than a phone call. For the principle behind this, please read what HDB3 already clarified below: “… just like the phone system, or the road system, no communication system is configured to allow every user who has access to use it at the same time, configuration for use in this manner would be so expensive only a very select few would be able to use the system.”

  16. Anonymous says:

    Cayman Islands’ Government and ALL its agencies and departments – reactive, never proactive, and even then not always correct!

    Morons in charge!

    • Anonymous says:

      You say “reactive, never proactive, and even then not always correct”

      This has been in the works as part of the overall solution. The first phase was the radio interrupts that worked great immediately after the earthquake. This is the next phase. It is very proactive and not reactive at all.

      We are turning into a people who do not read or listen to facts and only whine and complain.

      • Anonymous says:

        If the year was 1946, I’d agree. Cayman “apps” are just weblinks. No push notifications and won’t help those without smartphones. It should be a no cost text to everyone in the territory.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Why waste more money on an app, when a simple text message to all 345 cellphones could be sent via Digicel and Flow?


    • Anonymous says:

      I suspect it’s because the app will be able to do a lot more. Receiving a warning is one thing – what if you’re under a pile of rubble and need to tell first responders where to find you?

      • Anonymous says:

        Not everyone can either afford or own a smartphone. I don’t own one, but I can receive text messages.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeh I can just imagine being trapped under rubble, but having enough space to use your undamaged smart phone with your hands, happens all the time.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ll believe that when I see it.

    • Anonymous says:

      You asked: “Why waste more money on an app, when a simple text message to all 345 cellphones could be sent”

      Because WhatsApp was working better than the phone system was after the earthquake. Government is doing both solutions so stop complaining. I’d rather ‘belt and braces’ than rely on one solution. Think about it and stop whinging.

    • HDB3 says:

      Maybe you were not here when this test was done – http://www.gov.ky/portal/page/portal/cighome/pressroom/archive/201703/Tsunami%20Response%20Exercise

      In case you were not, some of the text messages were not delivered until the next day. Why? Because just like the phone system, or the road system, no communication system is configured to allow every user who has access to use it at the same time, configuration for use in this manner would be so expensive only a very select few would be able to use the system.

      • Anonymous says:

        Some of us still haven’t received the message…

        • HDB3 says:


        • HMCI says:

          And for the person that is still waiting for their SMS message I can tell you now – you won’t receive it – just to be clear: HMCI was aware that there were likely to be issues with network capacity BEFORE we conducted the exercise, but many persons believe that mass SMS texts can be widely and rapidly issued by the private mobile providers at any time – and we needed to check just how well this distribution process would actually work in an event (So we tested it – and we gathered empirical evidence of receipt times etc.) The test showed that there are significant issues with network capacity that make SMS messaging unsuitable for issuing public safety messages that require RAPID and RELIABLE MASS distribution.

          The mass SMS text exercise provided useful and important lessons for HMCI (in the process of developing the National Emergency Notification System). It showed (as we expected) that other more timely and dependable mechanisms were needed (such as radio interrupt and eventually a direct cell broadcast solution – among other distribution channels).

          The Cayman Islands National Emergency Notification System needs to be broad based and dependable to reach as many people as possible – so this simply means that no single solution is going to achieve this goal. SMS text may still have viable uses for crisis communications and the NENS system will incorporate this communication platform (along with many other vehicles for getting vital public safety information to the public). It is a work in progress and HMCI is committed to achieving the goal but it may not happen as quickly as we or members of the public would like – there is a lot to do, there are negotiations with private entities, budgetary considerations, equipment purchases, legal issues and many other factors that just take time and effort to accomplish. But we are moving steadily forward and we are not giving up!

      • Anonymous says:

        The phone systems are managed in Jamaica, so whose system do you think will get priority, ours or the Jamaicans for a no warning disaster affecting both islands at the same time?

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