False: Canadian Warns We Have No Tsunami Plan

April 28, 2010

As reported by another news organisation yesterday [Canadian warns we have no plans for tsunamis] a Canadian expert made statements relating to a lack of tsunami plans in Bermuda.

At a Dalhousie Alumni Reception held on April 26 at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, Dr. John Gosse was the featured speaker, and presented “Bermudian Geohazards: Thinking Outside the Triangle” to a reported audience of 400 people.

Dr. Gosse holds a Bachelors from Memorial University in Glacial geology and a Ph.D from Lehigh University in Alpine glacial chronologies. He is the Director of the Dalhousie Geochronology Centre in Canada.

During the event Dr Gosse stated:

The Bermudian Government put out an Emergency Plan, I noticed it doesn’t talk about tsunamis. I can’t find the word tsunami at all. It’s basically off the radar.

Dr Gosse appears to be referring an older document put out by the Bermuda Emergency Measures organization, which deals specifically with hurricane preparedness. You can read the full document here [36 page PDF]

The Bermuda Government, however, has additional documents relating to potential natural disasters. Bernews is in possession of a full copy of the ‘Bermuda National Disaster Plan’, which has contingency plans for numerous potential diasters, both natural and man-made.

The National Disaster Plan has references to tsunamis; including time taken to reach Bermuda, wave height, evacuation references, warning systems etc.

ocean waves tsunami

We spoke with local expert Dr Mark Guishard, who has a Bachelors in Environmental Sciences, Masters in Atmospheric Sciences and a PhD in Meteorology. He sit on the ICG/CARIBE EWS on behalf of Bermuda, and also represent the UN World Meteorological Organization’s regional Hurricane Committee on that body also. Dr. Guishard, a Bermudian, has been the Director of the Bermuda Weather Service since 2006.

Dr Guishard explained in depth:

I assume that Dr. Gosse was referring to the Emergency Plan for the General Public issued by the Department of Health in 2006 (available for download here [36 page PDF] ). Dr. Gosse is correct in stating that there is no information specific to tsunamis in that document. Most of the tips and advice in this document do pertain to our most prevalent threat for a natural disaster, Hurricanes.

Nonetheless, it is inaccurate to state that tsunamis are ‘off the radar’. Between the EMO, the Bermuda Weather Service (operated by BAS-Serco Ltd.), Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre (Bermuda Radio), and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, there have been a number of activities in the last few years related to the development of a tsunami warning system for Bermuda.

We have written Standard Operating Procedures, had a tabletop exercise in April 2009, and we even conducted a drill last month to find areas for improvement in our warning system, should a tsunami approach Bermuda. Regarding public education, there have been recent articles in the press and even public presentations on tsunamis over the last couple of years.

On the international scene, we have participated in the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (ICG/CARIBE EWS) since 2008. This work is ongoing, towards a robust system for educating, preparing and warning the public in the eventuality of a tsunami impacting Bermuda.

The consensus is that tsunamis have affected Bermuda before, however no major societal impacts have been recorded. In 1929, a dredging plant in Flatts was nearly sunk by “a tidal wave”, described as a “sudden inrush of water” (Royal Gazette, 21 November, 1929) – this was a result of an undersea landslide in the Grand Banks, triggering a tsunami south of Newfoundland.

No loss of life is thought to have occurred in relation to this event, but it speaks to the risks we might face from a tsunami, given the increase of population and coastal low-lying infrastructure.

Regarding seismicity near Bermuda, there have been no tsunami-genic earthquake events detected locally, but according to the US Geological Survey, we do get the occasional minor earthquake within 1000 km. A more likely tsunami source would be from a far-field origin, such as the fault line just north of Puerto Rico.

Assessment of the impacts of a tsunami on Bermuda is an effort we are trying to facilitate through collaboration with various agencies around the island. One of the big hurdles is the collation of bathymetry (sea floor mapping) data. Without accurate bathymetry data, models that predict the vulnerability to coastal inundation are necessarily limited. This bathymetry data is incidentally also needed for any assessment of storm surge impacts.

Bermuda Weather Service has been designated a Tsunami Warning Focal Point for Bermuda, in addition to Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre. As such, we have purview over coordinating Tsunami Warnings for the general public.

Bernews attempt to reach Dr Gosse for clarification was unsuccessful.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Craig Talbot says:

    The lack of any tsunami plan for Bermuda has concerned me for a few years now, in particular the threat posed by Cumbre Vieja in hte Canary Islands. The information in this article does not comfort me: a plan that is not transmitted to the public is not a plan at all, and I note that it only makes ‘references’ to tsunamis.

    A critical part of any plan is public awareness and preparation. If Cumbre Vieja were to explode tonight and send a catastrophic tsunami across the Atlantic Ocean, how much time would our government have to educate the populace and to ensure our safety? Exactly how much of a threat does this represent for an oceanic island such as Bermuda? What would the wave height and velocity be by the time it reached Bermuda? Some studies suggest the tsunami created by Cumbre Vieja would start out with a height of up to 1000 feet and a velocity of 500mph! Would it be necessary to evacuate our coastal areas, or even worse…all of Bermuda? How would this be done, and how quickly can it be accomplished? Would this even be possible if the USA and Canada are evacuating their own Eastern coast lines? In the event that the Atlantic coastal regions of North and South America, Europe and Africa are all devestated, what would be the immediate impact on Bermuda’s abilty to import foodstuffs and other critical supplies and what would be the longer term economic impact? How closely is our Government monitoring the major tsunami threats in the North Atlantic? Needless to say, I would be very interested in studying the answers to these qustions and you would earn my respect for your journalistic prowess and integrity if you are able to answer these questions.

    • sue says:

      I agree with Craig. Everyone laughs at the *false alarm* we had a few years ago but lets face it, the public does not know what to do…. other than “go to de light house”. Im curious about an evacuation plan and learning more about other geographic areas that could cause tsunami issues for Bermuda. Are there places in each parish where people should congregate?

  2. bernews says:

    The wording may actually be our error, as the plan does contain more extensive tsunami writings then a mention per se. The potential you mentioned from the Canary Islands is recognized, potential wave height, time to reach Bermuda as well as contingency plans are some of the aspects within the plan.

    Honestly speaking, we didn’t exactly obtain the plan through precisely official channels so to speak, so we erred on the side of safety and were deliberately vague as we weren’t sure what we could or could not say in relation to it. We will attempt to get greater clarification, and repost…

    Nice post btw, you are clearly very knowledgeable on the subject.

  3. Ray Solomon says:

    I see reference to the same 36 page PDF file twice (available for download here [36 page PDF] ) in your article about tsunami preparedness in Bermuda, but no link to the new plan mentioned.

    Can you please tell me where the updated plans might be accessed?