Hundreds of people briskly walked, jogged and ran from wherever they were and in many different directions across St John’s on Tuesday as they responded to the blaring sirens and warning notifications via a special app that marked a tsunami drill.
The simulation was done as part of an ongoing series of drills being conducted by the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) in collaboration with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
The first arrival to the St John’s Cathedral designated safe zone was a man who works at the Immigration Department. He arrived just over two minutes after receiving the alert on his phone.
“I was checking my phone, and all of a sudden I got an alert from the CAPCAP app. And from that, I started running,” he said, visibly out of breath.
The CAPCAP app is part of NODS’ early warning system. It can be found in the Apple Store and on Google Play.
Another participant said, “Our boss informed us as to the alert, and by the time we got near to the big church, the alarm had sounded… I was stationed down at the Spring Gardens Moravian Church and we heard the siren but we didn’t hear it as loudly, but after hearing it, the children did get into the groove and evacuated upstairs.”
Tuesday’s drill simulated a regional tsunami to mimic an earthquake from the Puerto Rico Trench with a magnitude of 7.4. The arrival time was set to be at 20 minutes with waves reaching as high as three metres.
Addressing the hundreds gathered at St John’s Cathedral, incident commander, NODS Director Philmore Mullin commended the crowd for their rapid response.
“Based on the scenario we had today, you had 17 minutes to get here and most of you got here in six minutes,” he said.
The exercise was conducted within the boundaries of St John’s including Market Street, all of the shoreline to the east of the city and as far north as Point and Villa.
The safe zones earmarked for the day’s exercise consisted of the Adelin Clinic, the Princess Margaret School, Wesleyan Holiness Church, St Andrews Cathedral, the Public Library and any area west of Independence Drive.
CDEMA representative, Rasheed Pinder, also hailed the simulation as a huge success.
“It was a very timely response. The early warning system was well in place as the sirens went off. The community response was great. I heard many community members indicate that they were not aware that it was a drill, but from the time they heard the sirens, they mobilised and made sure they got to the safety zones,” Pinder said.
Two areas he mentioned that could improve for the next exercise he added, however, were a lack of emergency response teams present during the exercise and the siren which he described as “non-unique”.
Tuesday’s drill was the third such simulation in two years with the first being in Bethesda in 2018 and the other being in the Rural West community last year.
NODS plans to conduct a drill in all 17 constituencies to include Barbuda before completing a comprehensive tsunami evacuation plan for the twin-island state.