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Tsunami-Preparedness Bill Rolls Through Committee

VITEMA Assistant Director Jacqueline Heyliger at Tuesday's Senate committee hearing.The V.I. Legislature’s Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee on Tuesday voted out a bill appropriating $40,000 to the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Authority (VITEMA) for tsunami escape route signs and tsunami preparedness.
If the bill passes, that $40,000 will join $42,000 from a National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant that is also earmarked for work on tsunami preparedness and response in the territory, VITEMA Assistant Director Jacqueline Heyliger told the committee. The new funding will help in that effort, she said.
"The funding will allow us to look strategically at how and where we can augment our efforts at better preparing the territory for these rare but high-impact events," Heyliger said.
Since receiving the NOAA grant, VITEMA signed on retired UVI professor and oceanographer Roy Watlington to coordinate the approach. A tsunami response committee was formed and, based on geography and population, the territory’s 44 coastal communities were winnowed to five preliminary sites: Cruz Bay on St. John, Frederiksted and Gallows Bay on St. Croix, and Frenchtown and Magens Bay in St. Thomas.
Taking into account the limited amount of federal grant money, three of the five sites were chosen for the first round of escape route signs. Those sites are Cruz, Gallows and Magens bays.
Soon, VITEMA will buy tsunami hazard signs for the three selected sites and begin working with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Puerto Rico Seismic Network on mapping the territory, Heyliger said. The mapping will help pinpoint the quickest escape routes to safety, she said.
VITEMA is also in the process of requesting bids to install a siren alert system, she said. While some systems do exist, they are "grossly outdated and are incompatible with the new siren system," she said.
This new bit of funding would help VITEMA accomplish the projects it already has under way, "including augmenting the signage at the first three sites, or purchasing signs for the two remaining sites – Frederiksted and Frenchtown," Heyliger said. "The agency could also use the funding to augment the siren system or to bolster public information and education on tsunami preparedness and response."
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sammuel Sanes, offered an amendment to the bill to change the source of funding from the Legislature’s General Fund to the Peace Officer Training Fund, a fund replenished by various fines and court fees whose purpose is to fund the training of police and other peace officers.
“I wanted to identify a funding source that was reliable," said Sanes. His amendment also earmarked the funds for work in Frederiksted and Gallows Bay.
Voting yea to send the bill out of committee were Sanes, Sens. Alvin Wiliams, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Patrick Sprauve, Wayne James and Celestino White. The vote was unanimous. The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee will address the bill next.
In other business, a bill to charge those prison inmates with means for part of the cost of their incarceration was held in committee.

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