THE EARTHQUAKE UNIT, in the Department of Geography and Geology, The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, has acquired funds from the World Bank through The Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to implement a Seismic Resilience Project for Jamaica. The project commenced last December and involved setting up a new seismic station in Font Hill, Westmoreland; acquiring additional accelerometers; renovating the Central Recording Office at the Earthquake Unit; and employing a Junior Seismic Research Fellow to detect seismic problems. Total funding amounted to approximately US$800,000.
Broad band seismometer
“We have 12 seismic stations, located spatially across the island, but there is a big gap in Westmoreland. The order has been placed to build a seismometer which will record the magnitude and where an earthquake occurs. This will be shipped to Jamaica from the US by April 2017,” said Professor Simon Mitchell, Head of the Department of Geography and Geology, The UWI, Mona.
Plans are also in place for the acquisition of at least 12 accelerometers to be placed mainly on school buildings islandwide, and on some hospital buildings, to record the amount of shaking resulting from an earthquake. “An accelerometer records how a building responds to an earthquake. It tells the frequency the building shakes at. If the frequency is the same as the earthquake, the building has the potential to collapse. The natural frequency of the building is wrong if it is very similar to the frequency of the earthquake,” Mitchell said.
Paul Williams, Network Engineer holding a GPS station. Williams worked with JSIF on the World Bank project
Accelerators have been placed on buildings at The UWI, the Kingston Public Hospital, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), the Norman Manley International Airport, and on some facilities on Highway 2000. “The cost of an accelerator is about US$20,000. If you invest large amounts of money on a building you should consider acquiring one,” Mitchell said.
“In fact, permanent structures such as the very big hotels, fire stations and hospitals should have one as we need to understand how these buildings respond to an earthquake. You can strengthen the building to ensure that less energy is transferred to the building during an earthquake, so that it won’t fall down. We need to inform people how they should change their building, and make as many buildings as safe as possible,” he added.
Additionally, the Earthquake Unit will be employing a Junior Seismic Research Fellow to be trained to examine seismic problems. “This Research Fellow will look at how different parts of the country react to earthquakes. For example, the shaking from an earthquake is more on flat land than on a limestone hill, because of the differences in the rock and soil. The Seismic Research Fellow will go out and collect information using the accelerometer. This is the way to go now. The future is reducing the impact of earthquakes, not measuring it,” Mitchell said.
“We want to inform people that if you design the building with an earthquake in mind, the chances are it will survive. Where you build is also important. It is all about making the building more resilient to the effects of an earthquake. If we have buildings which can withstand earthquakes, lives will be saved,” he added.
The Earthquake Unit will also be renovating its Central Recording Office by replacing old solar panels to maintain its services in the event of an earthquake or hurricane. “We need to be self-sufficient and energy-wise if something happens. We have to continuously record and collect data so that we can know what happened during an earthquake,” Mitchell said.
This coming year, 12 existing seismic stations will also be upgraded with the addition of digital seismometers. “We have four stations which are already digital. We want to upgrade the other eight to digital to have state-of-the-art stations to record the information we need to record,” Mitchell said.
Jamaica gets between 60 and 120 earth tremors per year, most of which are small. Mitchell is grateful for the funding from the World Bank through the JSIF, and the partnership with the Earthquake Unit, which he feels will have a positive outcome at the end of the day. “The aim of the Seismic Resilience Project is to put Jamaica in the safest position, as the occurrence of an earthquake is not a question of “if”, it is a matter of “when”. It can strike at any time,” he said.