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Conference Maps Ways to Reduce Effect of Disasters

March 2, 2005 – In the first day of a two-day conference, representatives from various territorial departments and agencies, along with representatives from several Caribbean islands, Wednesday received an earful on ways to stabilize their coastlines after a natural disaster.
The conference – "Coastal Protection, Infrastructure Development and Height Modernization Throughout the Caribbean" – was sponsored by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is taking place at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort.
"This conference is important because we feel it will collaborate efforts to stabilize our coastlines from damage done by disasters," Dean Plaskett, Planning and Natural Resources Department commissioner, said during welcoming remarks.
Plaskett said the conference came about because of an effort by the Lieutenant Governor's office, the University of the Virgin and Islands, and DPNR to update territory maps and place them online for residents to have access to them.
Sen. Neville James, who also gave welcoming remarks, said, "the people of the Virgin Islands are fortunate" that the conference was occurring because it provides a means to improve the territory's Geographical Information System (GIS) technology.
Mary Colvin, chief of community mitigation projects for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spoke of the relationship between accurate mapping and mitigating flood damage.
Colvin, who is responsible for the National Flood Insurance Program, said FEMA is into a "whole new way of doing mapping." She said it was currently working on a digital update of maps in the Caribbean region.
"The future is here," Colvin said. "Face it with vision, passion and determination."
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, in giving his remarks, said his involvement in the conference resulted because his office holds the territory's cadastral maps.
"This conference brings us together to share critical information," Richards said. "Everyone has a stake in this matter."
Richards introduced representatives from Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Trinidad, who were attending the conference which Richards hopes to be an annual event. The acting governor said he saw the conference as a "step in the right direction" and hopes that it is the "beginning of an important network for sharing."
Steve Parris, deputy director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, showed an informational video presentation of tsunamis and the damage they could cause within a short space of time. The video included reenactments and photo shots of the 1867 tsunami that hit the Virgin Islands.
According to the video, one to three earthquakes or tremors are felt daily in the Puerto Rico region. The video further stated that there are six trenches in the Puerto Rico area that were particularly prone to earthquakes – the Mona Canyon, the Puerto Rico Trench, the Loiza Crack, the Anegada Passage, the V.I. Basin and the Muerta Trench.
"If an earthquake hits in any of these areas, we would have less than 10 minutes before a tsunami occurred," Parris said. "Just in the month of February alone, more than 90 earthquake and tremors occurred."
Parris added, "Our coral reefs, our mangroves act as natural barriers for us." He warned of the importance of preserving the mangrove and coral reefs and not placing schools, hospitals and other emergency facilities in low-lying areas.
Besides Parris, six other speakers made presentations to the attendees Wednesday:
– Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for NOAA, spoke on the topic "The National Spatial Reference System," a system using specific stations to identify height and coordinates of about one million locations in the United States and its territories. Doyle said the Virgin Islands had three stations – one in St. Thomas and two in St. Croix – but only one, on St. Croix, was a Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) and could give continuous updated information.
– Dan Roman and Yan Ming Wang, from NOAA, spoke on "Gravity, Geoids and other Vertical Datums in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico."
– Alfredo Quarto, co-founder and executive director of the Mangrove Action Project, spoke during lunch on "A Global Perspective on the Status of Mangrove Forest Wetlands."
– UVI Professor Roy Watlington and UVI Data Manger Stevie Henry spoke on "Integrating Ocean Observations and Data Management and Decision Making in the Virgin Islands."
– Mark Hayward, BVI's National Geographic Information System (GIS) Coordinator, spoke on "The BVI GIS in Perspective."
– Mark Eckl, branch chief for Field Operations for NOAA, spoke on "CORS and Global Positioning System (GPS)."
Attending the conference were various DPNR employees, Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills, Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Louis Hill, James and Juan Figueroa-Serville. A representative from Senate President Lorraine Berry's office was also present.
The conference will resume 8 a.m. Thursday and will end with a closing dinner 6:30 p.m. that evening.
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