The level of participation in the tsunami warning exercise that took place on 26 March in the Caribbean was unprecedented, compared with similar exercises in 2011 and 2013. Organized under the auspices of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), it reflects the commitment of the countries concerned and a growing awareness of the tsunami threat in the region.
A total of 31 Member States* and 16 of the territories in the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions participated in the third regional tsunami exercise, CARIBE WAVE/LANTEX 2014. In addition, 230,000 people participated in the test, a 75% increase compared to 2011 and 300% more than in 2013. National Tsunami Warning Focal Points, other International, State, Territorial and Local Emergency Management Organizations, academic institutions governmental agencies, businesses, health facilities, media and individuals also took part.
“I welcome the success of this tsunami warning exercise. It demonstrates the maturity of the Tsunami Early Warning System implemented in the region in 2005,” said UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova. “Cooperation between States and specialized institutions, and the preparation of local populations, is crucial, to address tsunami-related risks, mitigate their impact and save lives. The extent of participation in the test and the smooth execution of the simulation is therefore cause for celebration.”
The alert messages were issued (by satellite, internet, fax) by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC), the US National Tsunami Warning Center (US NTWC), the Puerto Rico Seismic Network and the Instituto Português do Mar e Atmosfera (IPMA).
Two scenarios were developed for this year’s exercise. The first simulated a tsunami generated by an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.5 on the Richter scale originating 270 km in the South West of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, modelled after the earthquake and tsunami that occurred on 1 November 1755. The tsunami devastated Lisbon and also affected the coasts of Spain, North Africa, and the Caribbean. The first tsunami waves reached Lisbon in about 20 minutes, and struck in Antigua a little over 9 hours later. The second scenario simulated a tsunami generated by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.6 on the Richter scale which triggered a submarine landslide in the Gulf of Mexico.
The goal was to test the readiness of the countries in the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions to respond to a distant tsunami.
Previous experience underlines the crucial importance of rapid transmission of information to limit damage and save lives. In addition to the transmission of alert messages, Member States could choose to participate in various activities, including seminars, video conferences, simulations and evacuation exercises.
Over the last 500 years, 75 tsunamis have occurred in the Caribbean. This figure represents about 10% of the entire number of oceanic tsunamis in the world during that period. Tsunamis have killed more than 3,500 people in the region since the mid-19th century (source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA). In recent decades, an explosion in population growth and the number of tourists in coastal areas have further increased the region’s vulnerability.
The Tsunami and other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions was established in 2005, replicating the model of the Pacific, Indian Ocean and Northeast Atlantic systems
Media contact: Agnès Bardon, UNESCO Press Service. Tel : +33 (0) 1 45 68 17 64, a.bardon(at)unesco.org
* Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Martin, Guyane), Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands (Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius), Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom (Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos), United States (Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands).