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V.I. Moves A Step Closer to Tsunami-Ready

Front row, Elton Lewis, Gov. John deJongh Jr.; Back row, Roy Watlington, Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, Bill Proenza. (Photo courtesy Government House)Gov. John deJongh Jr. and V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Director Elton Lewis this week signed the territory’s first Tsunami Incident Annex. According to a Friday press release from Government House, it establishes guidelines for a widely-coordinated response to tsunami. The annex serves as addendum to the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan.

“The devastation a tsunami can cause makes planning for it one of the highest priorities today in emergency management. The impact is often sudden and results in numerous casualties and evacuees. It can strain and overwhelm our resources and capabilities and require us to seek life support from outside the territory. Time is often of the essence. Today, we can say, the Virgin Islands has a plan for response and recovery from the widespread catastrophic impact of a tsunami,” deJongh said.

The Tsunami Incident Annex outlines the activities of the government response agencies within the emergency management system in the event a tsunami threatens or impacts the territory. It embraces the capabilities and resources in the broader emergency management community that includes individuals, businesses, nongovernmental organizations and the federal government, the governor said.

The objective of the Tsunami Incident Annex is to coordinate emergency response efforts to save lives, reduce injuries, and preserve property. Although the Tsunami Incident Annex addresses emergency issues before and after an emergency, its primary goal is to assemble, mobilize and coordinate a team of responders and coordinators to manage a tsunami incident.

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The 94-page document is divided into five sections. They include an Introduction, which gives the history of tsunami in the Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean area, an operations section, which prescribes the sequence of operational activities to protect life, property and livelihoods, and organization. The organization section spells out roles and responsibilities, which includes the function of support and primary response agencies.

Additionally, it includes a section on plan maintenance and testing, training and exercise, which is a brief directive for management of the plan, and an authorities and references section used to establish and develop the plan. Appendices within the Annex illustrate tsunami inundation maps, potential tsunami evacuation sites and a list of populated places about an 80-feet elevation and provide recommendations for public education.

“VITEMA is very excited to have this plan in place,” Lewis said. “As far as strategic planning, this is a major milestone for us. We intend to continuously exercise and update it as necessary. It is living document that changes as our community grows and expands and as our capabilities are enhanced.

“All of our efforts — the completion of the Tsunami Incident Annex, to the installation of a siren warning system in 2011 and plans for installation of tsunami signs in the near future — brings us closer achieving TsunamiReady status.”

TsunamiReady is a status bestowed by the National Weather Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to communities that have met requirements including developing a tsunami response plan, establishing a 24-hour warning center and developing a public education campaign.

National Weather Service Southern Region Director Bill Proenza, Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, director of the Weather Service’s Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program, and retired University of the Virgin Islands professor and oceanographer Roy Watlington were also present for the signing of the Tsunami Incident Annex.

In addition to witnessing the signing of the Annex, Proenza and Hillebrandt-Andrade provided the governor with a comprehensive briefing on the territory’s risks of tsunami and other major hazards. The weather service is also working on a Caribbean Tsunami Warning Center at Puerto Rico to enhance federal-local partnership in tsunami preparedness.

The tsunami response plan is result of deJongh’s overhaul of the territory’s emergency management system, which he initiated in 2008. With the transformation, VITEMA shifted from solely hurricane and storm readiness to the broader approach of all-hazards preparedness. In December 2010, VITEMA hired Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based public safety and crisis management consulting firm, to help establish a tsunami response plan.

In August of 2011, Lewis approved the final draft of the Tsunami Incident Annex. No such plan existed prior to this and its completion is a significant milestone in VITEMA’s planning efforts. The project was funded by a $100,000 grant from Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority.

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Front row, Elton Lewis, Gov. John deJongh Jr.; Back row, Roy Watlington, Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, Bill Proenza. (Photo courtesy Government House)Gov. John deJongh Jr. and V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Director Elton Lewis this week signed the territory’s first Tsunami Incident Annex. According to a Friday press release from Government House, it establishes guidelines for a widely-coordinated response to tsunami. The annex serves as addendum to the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan.

“The devastation a tsunami can cause makes planning for it one of the highest priorities today in emergency management. The impact is often sudden and results in numerous casualties and evacuees. It can strain and overwhelm our resources and capabilities and require us to seek life support from outside the territory. Time is often of the essence. Today, we can say, the Virgin Islands has a plan for response and recovery from the widespread catastrophic impact of a tsunami,” deJongh said.

The Tsunami Incident Annex outlines the activities of the government response agencies within the emergency management system in the event a tsunami threatens or impacts the territory. It embraces the capabilities and resources in the broader emergency management community that includes individuals, businesses, nongovernmental organizations and the federal government, the governor said.

The objective of the Tsunami Incident Annex is to coordinate emergency response efforts to save lives, reduce injuries, and preserve property. Although the Tsunami Incident Annex addresses emergency issues before and after an emergency, its primary goal is to assemble, mobilize and coordinate a team of responders and coordinators to manage a tsunami incident.

The 94-page document is divided into five sections. They include an Introduction, which gives the history of tsunami in the Virgin Islands and the wider Caribbean area, an operations section, which prescribes the sequence of operational activities to protect life, property and livelihoods, and organization. The organization section spells out roles and responsibilities, which includes the function of support and primary response agencies.

Additionally, it includes a section on plan maintenance and testing, training and exercise, which is a brief directive for management of the plan, and an authorities and references section used to establish and develop the plan. Appendices within the Annex illustrate tsunami inundation maps, potential tsunami evacuation sites and a list of populated places about an 80-feet elevation and provide recommendations for public education.

“VITEMA is very excited to have this plan in place,” Lewis said. “As far as strategic planning, this is a major milestone for us. We intend to continuously exercise and update it as necessary. It is living document that changes as our community grows and expands and as our capabilities are enhanced.

“All of our efforts — the completion of the Tsunami Incident Annex, to the installation of a siren warning system in 2011 and plans for installation of tsunami signs in the near future — brings us closer achieving TsunamiReady status.”

TsunamiReady is a status bestowed by the National Weather Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to communities that have met requirements including developing a tsunami response plan, establishing a 24-hour warning center and developing a public education campaign.

National Weather Service Southern Region Director Bill Proenza, Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade, director of the Weather Service’s Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program, and retired University of the Virgin Islands professor and oceanographer Roy Watlington were also present for the signing of the Tsunami Incident Annex.

In addition to witnessing the signing of the Annex, Proenza and Hillebrandt-Andrade provided the governor with a comprehensive briefing on the territory’s risks of tsunami and other major hazards. The weather service is also working on a Caribbean Tsunami Warning Center at Puerto Rico to enhance federal-local partnership in tsunami preparedness.

The tsunami response plan is result of deJongh’s overhaul of the territory’s emergency management system, which he initiated in 2008. With the transformation, VITEMA shifted from solely hurricane and storm readiness to the broader approach of all-hazards preparedness. In December 2010, VITEMA hired Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based public safety and crisis management consulting firm, to help establish a tsunami response plan.

In August of 2011, Lewis approved the final draft of the Tsunami Incident Annex. No such plan existed prior to this and its completion is a significant milestone in VITEMA’s planning efforts. The project was funded by a $100,000 grant from Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority.