CHRISTIANSTED — The United States government declared what happened in St. Croix on September 17-18, 1989 to be the “worst disaster ever to affect the United States or one of its territories” — that was Category 4 storm Hurricane Hugo.
But that distinction would only last 30 days, because the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake occurred in Northern California on October 17 at 5:04 p.m — quickly eclipsing the designation that was the territory’s own for fully one month.
And whereas Hugo primarily affected St. Croix, Category 3 storm Hurricane Marilyn on October 15, 1995 mostly affected St. Thomas and St. John.
So the U.S. Virgin Islands knows disasters — and it has improved its infrastructure after each one — therefore simulating a disaster in a mock exercise should be easy … right?
At least 1,000 military personnel and first responders will be in the territory next week to participate in the Vigilant Guard 2017 full scale disaster simulation exercises coordinated by the U.S. Northern Command.
The United States Northern Command, or NorthCom, is tasked with conducting homeland defense, civil support and security operations to defend and secure the United States and its interests. Each year four state governments work with NorthCom to conduct major response drills for emergencies – Georgia, California and New Mexico are the other jurisdictions conducting exercises this year.
“In a major disaster we know that our local responders will be overwhelmed and we will need to reach out to our federal and military partners for life saving resources,” Gov. Kenneth Mapp said. “Overall, the exercise allows us to identify our strengths and our weaknesses and our gaps in emergency response operations.”
The Governor outlined what is expected to take place May 15-19 during a Monday morning press conference at Government House, St. Croix.
The exercise will simulate a full-scale response to the effects of a tsunami, which will have been generated by a sizeable earthquake, causing major damage on St. Thomas and moderate damage on St. Croix.
Participants in the disaster simulation include National Guard and other military components, FEMA personnel and local first responders. They will begin to arrive on island this week.
“You will see folks out and about in uniform,” the Governor said. “We ask you not to be alarmed, but to recognize that we are strengthening our partnerships with our military and our federal disaster responders to ensure that in the event of actual disaster we are all coordinated with how we will respond.”
The Governor and Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter will take part in the exercises. The chief executive will be “strategically placed” to exercise the authority of the Governor’s office as required. Declaring a State of Emergency and requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration are among the Governor’s initial responsibilities.
The exercises will commence with an alert from the tsunami sirens at 8 a.m. on May 15. Mass search and rescue, evacuation, shelter planning, riot control, response to unknown substances and distribution of emergency supplies are among the drills planned. These exercises and other disaster trainings will be held at various sites throughout the Territory.
The governor asked that residents be aware of the drills taking place and to make an effort to show the military and other personnel here for Vigilant Guard 2017 “a warm Virgin Islands welcome.”
“I ask all of the members of the community for their cooperation,” he said.