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Sunday 21 July 2019
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A shake-up call

THE AFTERSHOCKS of Tuesday’s historic earthquake should be not only the further tremors which normally accompany any major seismic event, but also renewed fervour when it comes to bolstering our readiness for similar types of events. That readiness is a matter as much about mindset as it is about infrastructure and resources.

In the midst of the terrifying quake, many people were captured on social media video invoking God. But we must do more than just hope God is a Trini. It could have been far worse. This month alone, almost 500 people died in earthquakes in Indonesia. Recent earthquakes in Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, and Mexico have also been deadly.

Earthquakes are a challenge even for wealthy, technologically-advanced nations like Japan, where a powerful 9.1 megathrust earthquake triggered a tsunami leaving thousands dead and causing billions in damage in 2011.

While prediction is not an exact science, the most important thing is the minimisation of damage where possible. That requires education and the implementation of building codes which help fend off the risk of serious damage. Unfortunately, and even Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley admits, we are not good in this country at enforcing our building codes and laws. It’s time for us to become good.

Government buildings should be the first port of call in this regard, as well as private structures and structures accessible to the public. An emergency plan, including the provision of shelters and the co-ordination of rescue efforts, should also be in place under the aegis of the National Security Council. The panic at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital was not a good sign.

It is important to note that aftershocks can happen hours, days, weeks after the primary event. This is probably why there was a thick aura of fear yesterday when one aftershock was felt mid-morning. For years, seismologists such as Dr Joan Latchman have been warning of the “big one.” We are located near the faultline of major tectonic plates and there is the belief that energy has been building up over time and will at some stage need release in a dramatic restructuring. Are we prepared?

Aspects of Tuesday’s experience were favourable, but the true test might be ahead.

For now the most important thing to impress on citizens is the need to stay calm during any event. All should acquaint themselves with guidelines as to what to do during a tremor. For instance, while a natural instinct is to run outside, research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

Thankfully there were no fatalities on Tuesday and no crippling structural damage. But we must not become complacent. This is a wake-up call for all to take stock and to take action to prepare.

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