NEMO installs gauges for early warning against tsunamis
NEMO WORKERS in Chateaubelair installing a tide gauge
March 1, 2022

NEMO installs gauges for early warning against tsunamis

THE NATIONAL Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), has installed a tide gauge at Chateaubelair to help alert the authorities in the event of a pending maritime disaster.

Director of NEMO, Michelle Forbes told SEARCHLIGHT that the gauge at Chateaubelair is the second to be installed; the first is at the Coast Guard base in Calliaqua. It is part of a wider region strategy by the Caribbean Tsunami Warning Programme which is based in Puerto Rico. Forbes noted the impact of climate change on St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and cautioned persons against tampering with the equipment. In fact, during the installation of the gauge on Thursday February 4, 2022, a member of the three-person crew installing the equipment told SEARCHLIGHT that, “Our biggest fear is vandalism.”

Tampering with the tide gauge, according to the NEMO official can risk invalidating potential data which will support the critical decision making at crucial times. There are 62 communities across the Caribbean, from Haiti to Grenada which are ranked as ‘tsunami ready’, and while tsunamis are not common in the Caribbean – the last major one hit 75 years ago- the threat posed by the existing volcanoes in the region give the experts cause for concern.

Forbes pointed out that the ring of volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean stretching from Montserrat in the north to Grenada in the south, has reinforced the need for Caribbean countries to prepare not just for hurricanes, but also for other less frequent but equally deadly hazards.

The eruptions of La Soufriere volcano in April 2021, along with the undersea Kick em Jenny off Grenada, the seven active volcanoes in Dominica, Mt. Pele in Martinique, and volcanoes in Montserrat, Guadeloupe, and St Lucia all remain points of dangerous volcanic eruptions that can give rise to destructive tsunamis.

Despite a growing recognition of the risk of tsunamis, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a reduction in the financial assistance available to help countries in the Eastern Caribbean to better protect vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas.

Programme Officer for coastal hazards at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Alison Brome, said, “Funding overall has been deflected more or less to fight Covid, and therefore there is a reduction in terms of the funding available to support tsunami- related initiatives.” “Donors are recognising that there are other hazards that can impact and I think the Soufriere volcanic eruption has highlighted the multi-hazard needs of the region,” Brome said.

Ensuring that communities are ‘tsunami ready’ and take part in the annual Caribe Wave – the world’s biggest tsunami evacuation drill, is core to better protecting the Caribbean which has built much of its critical infrastructure such as airports and schools in coastal areas.

Chief of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean, Raul Salazar said that tsunami risk awareness needs to be higher due to the volume of urban development and tourism development in vulnerable areas.

“Tsunamis deserve to be a critical part of disaster risk reduction policies and plans given their massive human impact and the toll they take on development,” Salazar said.

“Multi-hazard and integrated disaster risk governance, planning and national plans implementation is the only way to address tsunamis.”

And, pressure is now on to ensure that all vulnerable Caribbean communities are prepared for tsunamis by 2030, said manager of the US National Weather Service’s Caribbean Tsunami Warning Programme in Puerto Rico, Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade.

“It’s an audacious goal because it takes local champions, national champions, regional champions, and funding. There’s no country in the Caribbean that can say I’m safe from tsunamis as that doesn’t exist. When the next tsunami hits, if countries aren’t ready the devastation could be even worse than they’ve seen in hurricanes and earthquakes.”

Giving support to that position Forbes told SEARCHLIGHT that residents must take all warnings seriously. There are plans to place additional tide gauges further up the leeward coast and other points on mainland St. Vincent, as well as in the Grenadines.

She said this is crucial because of the constant threat posed by Kick em Jenny that could result in a devastating tsunami if it erupts.