On Tuesday, the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) hosted Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and the leadership of federal and local agencies for a celebratory program and ribbon-cutting ceremony to recognize the erection of the 44th and final tsunami warning tower at the DC Canegata Recreation Center and sports grounds on St Croix.
VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen led off the program by announcing to Gov. Bryan and those in attendance that he was proud to declare that the construction phase of all towers territory-wide had been completed. “As of today, all the warning sirens that once dotted the territory’s landscape before their destruction in the wake of two Category 5 hurricanes in 2017 have been replaced.”
While the old system used wooden utility poles, the new sirens will sit atop galvanized steel poles that will better withstand natural disasters. The completed towers stand 60 feet high and are equipped with radio antennas that receive emergency signals to activate the sirens. The height and selected locations best position the sirens to warn persons of any tsunami threat along the over 1500 miles of territorial shoreline.
Additionally, the system is being modernized for compatibility with the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), our nation’s alert and warning infrastructure. This integration will boost the system’s ability to notify and alert the public of other potentially catastrophic events, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and other weather-related traumas.
There are nineteen towers on St Thomas, seventeen on St Croix, seven on St. John, and one on Water Island. Director Jaschen stated that “testing of the sirens will take place between August and October with the goal to be completed in time for VITEMA’s ‘Great Shake Out’ earthquake awareness outreach week.”
Director Jaschen directed praise on those privately owned sites who agreed to have tsunami towers erected on their properties. They include Bolongo Bay Resort, the West Indian Company Ltd and the Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas, the National Park Service on St. John, the Divi Bay, and Casino, Southgate Baptist church, and Cane Bay on St. Croix. Also recognized was VITEMA’s partnership with the VI Department of Education for their partnership in helping to develop and prepare planning for schools situated in low-lying geographic areas.
Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien from the Office of Disaster Recovery took the opportunity to recognize her dedicated staff who were in attendance. “Resiliency is not only in our infrastructure, it is the resiliency of the people we invest in that make our islands a better place to live,” stated Williams-Octalien.
She continued to further explain the funding components utilized in the project, referencing section 428 of the Robert T. Stafford Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. The Tsunami Early Warning System is the first 428 project to be obligated in the USVI.
The dedication ceremony featured retired UVI Professor Roy Watlington as its guest speaker. Watlington is a noted expert and author in the field of tsunamis. He currently serves as the USVI science representative to the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation program and is a member of its coordinating staff. In his remarks, he spoke of his gratitude to the agencies and persons responsible for making the resources possible to receive the funding for the preparedness assets, including the new tsunami sirens. Professor Watlington specifically praised the leadership and staff of VITEMA for their hard work and considerable effort in recruiting the necessary funding.
Before the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gov. Bryan concluded the program with closing remarks. “We are moving forward on so many projects, we have to take the time to celebrate the win, and today is a big win.” He also took the opportunity to praise VITEMA as one of the best emergency response departments in the country, referring to the planning and execution of the territory’s response to COVID-19, the success of organizing the various public vaccination projects, and
the follow-through in seeing the tsunami restoration project to its successful conclusion.
For additional emergency preparedness information, please go
to www.vitema.vi.gov, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact
VITEMA – St. Croix 340-773-2244; St. John – 340-776-2244; or St. Thomas –340-774-2244.