The island of Puerto Rico lies in a fault zone, so it is imperative that the government and citizens be prepared to minimize risks and protect lives if an earthquake hits the island.
The earthquakes felt in Puerto Rico since the night of Saturday, December 28, and in the following days, remind us of the frequent seismic activity in our region, where scientists document hundreds of shakes every month.
Last October, the Puerto Rico Seismic Network (PRSN) detected 743 seismic events. Of that total, only 11 were identified as felt by residents in different areas. In September, the entity, which is part of the Department of Geology of the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, identified 848 seismic events, but only ten were felt by residents.
According to experts, if seismic events do not reach a magnitude higher than 4.5, most people do not feel them. However, ignoring seismic risks on the island is a serious mistake. Therefore, it is necessary to have updated action plans to follow in case of an earthquake. And each home should prepare these plans considering its specific characteristics and location, as well as the needs of adults and children in each family, among other basic considerations.
Some months ago, the government announced its intention to create an integrated plan to deal with seismic emergencies. For that purpose, according to the Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration (NMEAD, Spanish acronym), they identified $636,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Performance Grant program.
The initiative involves inspecting critical infrastructure such as bridges, which resistance can be decisive for safety in case of a major earthquake. Evaluating food storage locations, which are key in major emergencies, is also part of the plan preparation process.
An integrated plan goes beyond recommendations in case of earthquakes and includes specific measures on how to act in case of a seismic event. The plan should be completed this year and they have already scheduled meetings with mayors and municipal staff working on critical infrastructure associated with drinking water supplies, among others, to work on this plan. Tim Frazier, Director of the Emergency and Disaster Management Program at Georgetown University, has collaborated on the plan.
October marked the 101st anniversary of the most damaging earthquakes to hit Puerto Rico, when a 7.3-Richter Scale magnitude earthquake hit the island, unleashing a tsunami with 20-foot waves and killing 116 people.
Beyond safety measures that governments implement in the short term, each family and community must have its own earthquake safety plan. A family earthquake plan implies that each member knows the safest evacuation route and, if they are not together during the event, that they know where the meeting point is. Each person should have an emergency backpack with water, flashlight, battery-powered radio, a blanket, and IDs, among other items.
Each family must also know the guidelines of community safety plans and participate in earthquake drills organized by authorities. Identifying problems in each house is also important to correct deficiencies that pose a risk.
Having an updated plan will determine the probability of family and community safety at that unforeseen moment of an intense earthquake.
In the face of the latent threat of an earthquake, the government and Puerto Ricans must be at the forefront of prevention. Finding information and learning how to act in case of such an emergency, following a specific plan, previously established, will ensure safety and survival to respond to the potential damage of uncontrollable natural forces.