Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez Programa de Alerta y Mitigación Contra Maremotos de Puerto Rico FEMA (Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias)
(October 2000 to March 2003)
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TASK IV. Develop warning messages and protocol in the event that a potentially tsunamigenic event is detected. 

Click here to read the Report on Task 4 by Christa G. von Hillebrandt-Andrade

Once a felt earthquake has been characterized in terms of magnitude, location and faulting mechanism and its tsunamigenic potential has been determined this information needs to reach the affected communities as fast as possible.  Warning protocols need to be developed at the municipal, state, and federal levels, and also within the rest of the Caribbean community. The key agencies in the Pacific states for warning messages and emergency response coordination are NOAA (Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the National Weather Service, NWS), the USGS regional seismic networks, and state and local emergency response agencies. A similar setup will be established in Puerto Rico and the USVI, and will include the Puerto Rico Seismic Network (PRSN) of the University of Puerto Rico, NWS, and the Puerto Rico Civil Defense.  This will also involve the participation of Puerto Rico’s Warning Coordination Meteorologist - WCM - in the regular Tsunami Warning Coordination Meteorologists Training Workshops held on the West coast; the Pacific states  WCM’s have now included tsunamis as part of their coastal hazard community preparedness activities. The WCM’s have been designated the point of contact between the States and NOAA. 

NOTE: The following information was published in Vol. XXXV, Number 1, February 2003 issue of the Tsunami Bulletin, published by the International Tsunami Information Center, located in Hawaii.

For this purpose, a “Tsunami Protocol Meeting” (Click here for the list of invitees) was held at the Mayagüez Campus of the University Puerto Rico during the 15-16th of January 2003. The objective of this meeting was to set the groundwork for a tsunami warning system capable of rapid dissemination of information throughout the Caribbean on potentially tsunamigenic events in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (VI). The meeting was convened by Prof. Aurelio Mercado of the Marine Science Dept. and Christa von Hillebrandt, Director of the Puerto Rico Seismic Network. It was attended by the directors of the Richard H. Hagemeyer Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC), the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WC/ATWC), the National Weather Service Pacific and Southern Regions, International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC) and representatives from the IOCARIBE Group of Experts on Tsunamis, the Puerto Rico Sea Grant Program, and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA), the Puerto Rico State Emergency Management Agency (PRSEMA), FEMA, the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. 

Click here to view pictures of the workshop and fieldtrip. 

After two days of presentations and discussions, the following 14 action plans were developed and approved. Implementation is planned to start in 2004:

  • Action Item # 1: Establish a PR-VI Tsunami Technical Review Committee (PRVITTRC). The Committee should initially include a representative of each of the Emergency Management offices of PR, VI, British Virgin Islands (BVI), and the NWS Puerto Rico Forecast Office (PRFO), research community and the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, National Tsunami Warning Program. Eventually this committee should be expanded to include representatives of other parts of the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean. (Leader: PRSN to be transitioned to PRSEMA)
  • Action Item # 2: Prepare tsunami information, advisory, watch, and warning messages. (Leader: NWS)
  • Action Item # 3: Implement redundant communication between PRSN, PRSEMA and NWS. Identify points of contact for distributing tsunami messages in the VI and Caribbean. (Leader: PRSN)
  • Action Item # 4: Prepare PR-VI Tsunami Warning Protocols/Operational Plan for local and teletsunamis.(Leader: PRSN transition to PRSEMA)
  • Action Item # 5: Submit to Directors of Pacific Region and Southern Region NWS proposal for a PR-VI Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (Leader: PRSN).
  • Action Item # 6: Explore possible sources of NOAA funding for a PR-VI Tsunami Warning and Mitigation Program. (Leader: Director Pacific Region NWS)
  • Action Item # 7: Explore possible sources funding (both regional and other) for the PR-VI Tsunami Warning and Mitigation Program. (Leader: PRSN)
  • Action Item # 8: Prepare action plan to conduct local training/outreach for public safety managers and general population. (Leader: PRSEMA)
  • Action Item # 9: Identify priorities for tsunami research. (Leader: Aurelio Mercado)
  • Action Item # 10: Complete installation of water level instrumentation in PR, including a GPS survey. Install an alert base station in the PRSN. Provide recommendation for installation for water level instrumentation outside of the Caribbean region. (Leader: PRSEMA with assistance of NWS)
  • Action Item #11: Identify resources for installing a seismic station in the eastern Dominican Republic. (Leader: PRSN)
  • Action Item #12: Recommend to National Ocean Survey/Virgin Islands Territories Emergency Management Agency the upgrade of sea level instrumentation in the Virgin Islands. (Leader: UVI)
  • Action Item #13: Provide tsunami orientation and tsunami warning process training to the Weather Forecasting Office in Puerto Rico. (Leader: Director Pacific Region NWS)
  • Action Item #14: Coordinate delivery, distribution and approved usage of National Earthquake Information Center seismic information/products for use in developing Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Tsunami Warnings. (Leader: PRSN)
If these action items are carried out, not only will a PR-VI Tsunami Warning System be established, but the groundwork for a more comprehensive PR-VI Warning and Mitigation Program would be started. We feel we have met the objectives put forth for the PRTWMP, and as a result the tsunami threat is being taken more seriously by the general public and the local government. This feeling comes out from the feedback we have obtained from the general public and the amount of press releases and radio and television interviews we have been asked to attend. We strongly feel that sources of funding need to be identified to continue the program and extend it to the Virgin Islands.

Photos taken during the event can be found at Program Task Photos: Task IV.

Personnel Involved:
Ms. Christa von Hillebrandt – Puerto Rico Seismic Network 
Dr. Victor Huerfano - Puerto Rico Seismic Network 
Prof. Aurelio Mercado – Department of Marine Sciences, UPRM

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