The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency set the first tsunami warning siren into the ground today near the Cyril E. King Airport at St. Thomas. The installation commences the first of a two-phase project designed to bolster emergency managers’ ability to quickly notify coastal communities that there is an imminent threat of tsunamis and other hazards.
“On Friday we placed the first warning siren into the ground kicking off our long-anticipated Tsunami Warning Siren System installation project,” said Elton Lewis, VITEMA Director. “This project is a significant step forward in our emergency alert and notification capability. The Virgin Islands is one of the most seismically active areas in the world and we know that in there is potential for local tsunami, where we have only minutes to react.”
VITEMA’s contractor, American Signal Corp., and its local representative Bronx Communication, and the VI Water and Power Authority — the three entities completing the installations — will spend next couple of weeks mounting three additional sirens on St. Thomas, and then begin work on St. Croix followed by St. John.
The three remaining sites on St. Thomas include Griffith Park, Yacht Haven Sugar Mill and the Red Hook Marina. On St. Croix, the sirens are set to be installed at the D.C. Canegata Ballpark at Estate Welcome in Christiansted, the Government Parking Lot in downtown Christiansted, and on Emancipation Drive and near the Legislative Building in Frederiksted. On St. John the sirens will be installed at the Winston Wells Park at Cruz Bay and near the Guy Benjamin Elementary School in Coral Bay.
A map of where the first phase sirens will be placed and information on the project can be found at
Lewis thanked WAPA which is providing and installing the poles on which the sirens are mounted at no cost to VITEMA. This partnership is key for the completion of this project, Lewis stated.
The first phase is scheduled to be complete by the end of June 2011.
An additional 11 sirens are slated for the second phase which will follow shortly after the first phase is finished, however, no firm date has been set and none of the sites have not yet been solidified as VITEMA and hoteliers are in ongoing discussions on whether the hotel themselves can place a siren near their establishments.
“This would essentially broaden our coverage area and takes into consideration that thousands of visitors are in our hotels and nearby beaches every day,” Lewis said. “Our goal is eventually blanket our populated coastline areas and we hope the hotel industry joins us in this endeavor.”
At the end of the project, VITEMA will have installed 22 sirens that are tied to and can be triggered by the Territory’s VI Alert system. VI Alert serves as web-based portal for advisories, watches and warnings disseminated by the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, the National Weather Service and the US Geological Survey for seismic — as well as information from local emergency management agencies.
Both phases of the project is being funded by two separate homeland security grants one for $350,000 and another for $300,000.
The Tsunami Warning Siren System is result of VITEMA’s shift in focusing from solely hurricane and storm preparedness to preparing for all hazards.
In 2007, Governor John P. de Jongh Jr. began a massive overhaul of the Territory’s emergency management system and the reorganization of VITEMA. As a result of this process, the emergency management system shifted its focus and posture from mainly hurricanes and storms to providing effective and efficient management of all hazards, focused strongly on addressing gaps in its planning for catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis.
In an attempt to build-in redundancies in the Territory’s alert system, VITEMA also are currently working with the private sector to re-energize the traditional Emergency Alert System (EAS), which allows the President of the United States and the VI governor to broadcast major emergency alerts over local radio and television stations. The EAS is critical for individuals who may not have access to cell phones or computers to utilize services such as VI Alert. A territorywide Emergency Alert System demonstration was held March 23, and VITEMA currently working local broadcasters to address shortfalls that were revealed in the exercise, including a weak signal.
VITEMA also is continuing to partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop tsunami-ready communities through regular exercises and training using lessons learned and best practices from recent events such as the earthquake and tsunamis that hit Japan, Haiti, Chile and the American Samoa.
Tsunami Plan Update
Finally, VITEMA recently hired Witt Associates, a Washington DC-based public safety and crisis management consulting firm, to collaborate with VITEMA in establishing a tsunami plan that will be included as an addendum to the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan.
Witt Associates, more specifically, is contracted to complete a tsunami-specific hazard and risk assessment, to write a Tsunami Readiness/Evacuation Plan, to conduct a training needs assessment, and to conduct a tabletop exercise to test the plan.
Earlier this month, Witt Associates submitted a draft of the Tsunami Readiness/Evacuation Plan, which is currently being reviewed by VITEMA. Witt Associates expects to complete the plan by June 2011.