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VITEMA Puts Territory on Alert in Wake of Regional Earthquakes in Puerto Rico

St. Thomas 𑁋 After a series of earthquakes caused severe damage and at least one fatality on the southern end of Puerto Rico on Wednesday. Officials at the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency said the agency “stands in solidarity with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as high magnitude earthquakes impact the region over the past two days. 

There are currently no tsunami watches or warnings issued for the US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. In December, first responders in the territory received tsunami awareness training. 

The southern shore of Puerto Rico is experiencing an increase in earthquakes which are registering as high as 6.4 on the Richter Scale. The increased occurrence of these earthquakes has caused infrastructure damage, power outages and as a result, VITEMA has placed the U.S. Virgin Islands on alert.

News sources are also reporting that the earthquakes have left most of the island without power, access to clean water and residents fear tremors will bring more destruction

“The recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico are a stark reminder that we have to ensure we are prepared for more than just hurricanes,” said Governor Albert Bryan Jr. “Our prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico today, and with the many Virgin Islanders who have loved ones residing on the island. While there is no current tsunami threat, I am urging you all to remain calm but vigilant and to please pay attention to the alerts from VITEMA.” 

The 44 tsunami sirens in the territory are undergoing repairs. Those sirens “will not sound during this crucial time period. However, in the event a Tsunami Watch or Warning is issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC), VITEMA can immediately notify citizens using the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). Through IPAWS, real-time emergency notifications are sent to all cellphones, cable providers and radio broadcasters connected to towers in the US Virgin Islands,” according to VITEMA.

IPAWS improves alert and warning capabilities by allowing alerting authorities to deliver alerts simultaneously through multiple communications devices reaching as many people as possible to save lives and protect property. These communication pathways include the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

“The majority of the earthquake activity is occurring to the south of Puerto Rico,” said VITEMA Director D. Jaschen. “While we stand ready to respond to earthquake-related hazards in our area, we are focusing on potential earthquake-generated tsunami threats.”

Residents are strongly encouraged to sign up to Alert VI on VITEMA’s website which will provide real-time emergency notifications via cell phone calls, text messages, landlines, emails, and TTY devices. Staying informed of potential threats will ensure that every available moment to react is not lost. It is important to read all Alert VI messages to differentiate between advisories, alerts, and warnings.

Immediate recommended actions include:

  • Signing up to Alert VI today at www.vitema.vi.gov
  • Prepare an emergency “go-bag” for your home and vehicle today
  • Practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” earthquake techniques with the elderly, disabled, and children
  • Designate meeting points and reuniting plans should family members be in different areas at the time of an event
  • Be sure that you have a battery-operated radio available if communication systems become impaired. Follow instructions provided by VITEMA and other official sources
  • Find the best route to get to higher ground in all the areas that you work and spend leisure time

“As of right now, leadership is ready, communication is good, and response partnerships are committed,” said Director Jaschen. “If we all do something today to prepare for these threats, we will be in a better position to recover and preserve life and property in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

The Integrated Public Alert & Warning System Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN) is an IP based network that has integrated the different emergency alert systems of the United States. Its purpose is to connect alert originators to a server which then aggregates and disseminates alerts to the proper systems.

President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Tuesday, according to FEMA. The aid allows the U.S. government to provide immediate assistance, including restoring lost power now that there is a federal emergency declaration signed by the White House.

Featured image courtesy of Variety.