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Tsunami warning simulation: are Belize and the rest of the Caribbean up to the mark?

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 14, 2016–The 7.1 magnitude earthquake of May 2009 which struck off the coast of Honduras sparked a tsunami alert for Belize and neighboring countries. Thankfully, we were spared! Tsunamis can be just as devastating, or even more devastating, than the earthquakes which trigger them, and the Caribbean region wants to make sure that it is ready should a tsunami threat emerge again in 2016.

   Chief Meteorological Officer, Dennis Gonguez, told Amandala that Belize will participate in a region-wide test this Thursday, March 17, to ensure that the channels via which regional alerts and bulletins are issued to individual countries are up to the mark.

   The exercise, to be undertaken under the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (ICG/CARIBE EWS), under the auspices of the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Caribbean Regional Stakeholders (CEPREDENAC, CDEMA, and EMIZ) will firstly simulate response to an 8.4 magnitude earthquake off Venezuela, in the southern Caribbean Sea.

   “The purpose of this exercise is to advance tsunami preparedness efforts in the Caribbean and adjacent regions, based on Venezuela and Northern Hispaniola scenarios,” the UNESCO body said.

   The second scenario will be a tsunami generated by a magnitude 8.7 earthquake located north of Hispaniola, in the Atlantic Ocean.

   If you hear alerts of such tsunamis being circulated on Thursday, more than likely they will be “dummy messages,” issued by the US Pacific and National Tsunami Warning Centers (PTWC). These messages should only be issued to test communications with Tsunami Warning Focal Points and National Tsunami Warning Centers—not to create false public alarm.

   The Belize Met Office is the tsunami warning national focal point for the country, but it would, in the event of a real tsunami, disseminate public information via the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).

   In the event that a national disaster takes the national phone companies offline, the focal point is also able to receive communications directly via a back-up system through satellite.

   Gonguez said that this week’s test is part of an annual exercise, and this is the third year that Belize is involved.

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