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No national tsunami plan, says report

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Bermuda has no national tsunami plan, and warning exercises are “generally not taken seriously”, according to a scientific report on Hurricane Joaquin.

John Wardman and Mark Guishard from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) also alleged that, should a cruise ship run aground here — as happened with the Norwegian Dawn in May — no contingency plans exist to accommodate the potential thousands of passengers and staff.

The Ministry of National Security conceded that both claims were correct, but added that plans are under way to address the issues.

Dr Wardman and Dr Guishard released Hurricane Preparedness in Bermuda: Impacts to Critical Infrastructure and Primary Industries from Hurricane Joaquin as part of BIOS' BermudaRisk programme, which investigates dangers to the Island from natural hazards.

While praising the Island's “strict building codes and robust houses”, the authors noted that “there are many potential disasters which Bermuda emergency management leaders have not considered or planned for”.

Furthermore, despite efforts to educate the Bermuda public otherwise, many people still do not see tsunamis as a genuine concern.

Bermuda Weather Service (BWS) director Kimberley Zuill has previously warned that a tsunami has struck Bermuda before, following an earthquake near Newfoundland in 1929.

The report said: “Care should be taken to ensure that the public does not become complacent about their risk, or the risk to visitors, based on past experience of limited physical impacts from a tsunami or other natural hazard.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of National Security said that although Bermuda has no specific tsunami plan, the development of one is “actively in hand”.

She added that on January 12, a meeting to arrange 2016's tsunami exercise will bring together agencies including BIOS, BWC and RCC Bermuda.

Regarding the cruise ship contingency plan, the spokeswoman said that the issue was raised during a May meeting in Miami for Overseas Territories disaster managers.

“All disaster managers identified gaps in our ability to move thousands of people from a cruise ship if it lost power, was grounded on a reef or turned over,” she said.

“Related to this was the scenario where an aircraft may overshoot the runway and come to rest in the water, requiring all persons aboard to be brought ashore.”

The spokeswoman said that, by April, a Mass Rescue Operations plan should have entered development — after the relevant parties attended a Foreign Commonwealth Office-planned workshop in Miami.

People stranded in Bermuda would either be offered hotel rooms or lodging in temporary facilities until their pick-up was arranged, which should be within 24 hours according to cruise ship industry standards.

“Shelters can be set up at CedarBridge Academy and Warwick Camp. Other schools and buildings can also be used,” the spokeswoman added.

Freak waves off the South Shore, caused by earthquakes off Africa, in November 1984 (Photograph by Geoffrey Bell)
Waves crash onshore during the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan
Earthquakes off Africa, in November 1984, stirred up waves off the South Shore (Photograph by Geoffrey Bell)

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Published December 15, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 15, 2015 at 8:26 am)

No national tsunami plan, says report

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