Building Trust…

Last week, several tsunami warning signs were erected in the TCI capital Grand Turk, as part of a regional Carib Wave/LANTEX tsunami drill. The signs were meant to be permanent, but before the day was done, at least one was down as it failed to withstand the ravages of the wind.

Tsunami Warning Sign

One of several signs installed on Grand Turk for the tsunami drill.

I congratulate the authorities for successfully evacuating roughly a third of the island in a timely manner but several issues came up..those I will, however save for another time.

Today, a week after the exercise, the signs that marked the evacuation routes have been pulled down and stored for ‘safe-keeping’. A necessary action because the material was not durable enough to withstand the wind in the higher elevations. This may seem a minor issue, but these minor problems could underline much larger issues. I will take this as a learning/teaching point.

As a communications specialist I believe it is important that the public is able to trust the message and the messenger, particularly when the messenger is charged with saving lives. In communicating hazards, the community i.e. the people must know that they are getting reliable information on which to act. The signs were promoted as permanent fixtures; a part of disaster risk reduction strategy and ofcourse one of several tools in a system that is expected to save lives. Now, they have disappeared from the landscape.

One very important test in reaching the community is how well one applies available or better yet local knowledge…i.e. adaptation strategies. The failure of these signs points to a lack of research…research that would have indicated the need for a particular type of sign and the proper placement of those signs. This cannot be a one size fits all situation- PVC signs that are properly installed on a wall or building will most likely remain in place.

school children on Grand Turk

School children and their teachers making their way to Nooky Hill, the highest point on Grand Turk during the tsunami drill.

The authorities in Grand Turk must now seek to have these PVC signs re-installed on walls or buildings along the evacuation routes and look for alternatives that can withstand the elements and the terrain for other sections of the route. They must also take into consideration that the sands will shift and that will likely impact how long those signs that are installed along the coast will remain upright; that the signs installed along the ridge and high points must be able to withstand the wind coming from the open sea. And even while cash is limited, cost cannot be the only factor.

In the next round, the authorities must also look the installation of tsunami evacuation signs on the beaches. They MUST meet with the hoteliers, cruise management and discuss the placement of signs in those facilities as well. Bear in mind that tourism is still alive and well in those places that were most heavily impacted by the 2004 tsunami.

On the eighth anniversary of the devastating tsunami (Dec 26, 2012) a Vietnamese newspaper wrote:
“Phuket was among southwestern areas in Thailand devastated by the 2004 tsunami, but now it reclaims its title as a popular global tourist destination, thanks to the three S’s: “sun, sea, and sex.”
There is no vestige of the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 that killed more 8,000 Thais and foreigners. Instead, large crowds of travelers fill Bangla Road, an undisputed center of nightlife in Phuket, around 10pm after a beautiful day at the beach.”

Anyone who was not on Grand Turk on March 26, would not have seen the tsunami evacuation signs and won’t see them now that they have been removed for ‘safekeeping’. So when we tell the world that tsunami signs have been installed, was it only for the exercise? If they are permanent, where are they?

One other thing…I can’t close without sharing the tweet sent by the National Weather Service San Francisco Bay area during their exercise on March 26.

photo tweet

Twitter from San Francisco

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