Next Thursday’s earthquake

earthquake

 

This will be a simulation exercise coordinated by Malta’s Civil Protection Department at 4pm next Thursday in Gozo and three hundred people will be involved.

It will be carried out with EU assistance and in conjunction with the Civil Protection Authorities in Sicily who are partners with the Maltese Civil Protection Department (CPD) in establishing a network within the region that is able to manage seismological disasters.

This exercise signals the coming of age of Malta’s CPD. It has to date delivered sterling service in the areas of fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. Training its staff, and subjecting them to a gruelling simulation exercise, is a gigantic step forward for the CPD. It is the first step of a long journey that is dependent on the dedication of the CPD staff  – which is unlimited – as well as the resources allocated by the state. Such resources, although limited over the years, seem to be slowly trickling down, for a change.

Developing the CPD’s ability to handle disasters will be a major challenge. For a start it will identify its capability to develop effective coordination with the Police Force, with the AFM (Armed Forces) and the health authorities as well as with local councils.

At the end of the day the CPD’s proficiency in disaster management will be measured in terms of its response time as well as the number of lives it saves in such situations. This will generally depend on the severity of the disaster with which it is faced.

This will not only translate into a general level of preparedness. It will also require focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities and in this respect the role of local councils is indispensable. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridded or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and it requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has no access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency which needs to be addressed forthwith.

One small example would suffice: how would the CPD personnel, the police, the AFM – or the health authorities for that matter – communicate with persons with  impaired hearing in the absence of staff able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this deficiency is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management. It is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around five hundred known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who may have remained below the radar, this is an issue which is manageable primarily at a local level. Yet to date it has not been adequately prioritised.

In this context, one would also need to query the level of preparedness of institutions such as Mount Carmel Hospital and id-Dar tal-Providenza. I am informed that even when it comes to fire drills in residential homes for the elderly, the results were not impressive, to put it mildly.

Prompt and effective coordination between the different authorities is crucial in ensuring disaster management. There is a need to test how the different types of equipment used by the CPD, the Police and the AFM interact. Are they compatible? The planned simulation exercise is an opportunity to identify whether, in an actual practice run, matters will work out as planned. Lessons learned in this area will have to be translated into better procurement procedures in the future to ensure smooth interaction between the CPD, the police and the Army.

This will translate into compatible communication equipment as well as adequately maintained vehicles, sea craft and aeroplanes/helicopters which can be used in difficult circumstances. Knowing that maintenance of equipment has never been our forte, this could be quite a challenge!

The simulation exercise on Gozo on 3 September will necessarily lead to a number of lessons learnt which will have to be acted upon in order that Malta’s capability in disaster management is enhanced. This is definitely a bold step in the right direction.

I look forward to the next steps which require the involvement of local authorities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 30 August 2015

Terrimot għall-ġimgħa d-dieħla

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Id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili qed jippjana terrimot għall-ġimgħa d-dieħla nhar il-Ħamis 3 ta’ Settembru. Dan ser isir bħala eserċizzju ta’ taħriġ u ser jinvolvi madwar 300 ruħ. It-taħriġ ser isir ġo Għawdex.

Ser jipparteċipaw ukoll madwar sittin persuna teknika mid-Dpartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili ta’ Sqallija.

Din hi aħbar tajba ħafna. Tfisser li bħala pajjiż bdejna inħarsu l-quddiem bis-serjetà f’dan il-qasam. Sal-lum id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili kien assoċjat mat-tifi tan-nar, ma’ inċidenti gravi tat-traffiku u ma problem ta’ għargħar. Issa ser isir pass kbir il-quddiem.

Hu tajjeb li nibdew nippjanaw dwar kif id-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili jaħdem f’każ ta’ diżastru nazzjonali bħal terrimot jew għargħar, per eżempju.

Il-kordinazzjoni hi meħtieġa biex l-awtoritajiet differenti jissinkorizzaw il-ħidma ta’ bejniethom. Hu importanti ħafna li d-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili, l-Armata, l-Pulizija u l-awtoritajiet tas-Saħħa f’każ ta’ emerġenza ma jkollhomx diffikultà biex jaħdmu. Għalhekk importanti t-taħriġ.

Imma hemm bżonn ukoll li jkunu involuti l-Kunsilli Lokali għax f’każ ta’ emerġenza huma l-Kunsilli Lokali l-ewwel u l-iktar kuntatt effettiv man-nies.

Ma nistax għalhekk ma ngħidx prosit mistħoqq lid-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili li wasal sa hawn.

Imma dan hu biss il-bidu. Għax hemm ħafna iktar x’isir.

The Freeport’s neighbours at Birżebbuġa

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Two incidents occurred at the Freeport Terminal last week. The first led to the spill of an oily-like chemical when a container was accidentally hit and part of its contents spilled out into the sea. The second concerned odours resulting from the handling of fuels at the Oil Tanking Terminal.  The second accident led to the precautionary hospitalisation of six employees. The first incident, on the other hand, led to the suspension of bathing activities at Pretty Bay, Birżebbuġa for a number of days.

The accident leading to the spill occurred on Monday, 8 June at around noon. Yet on Friday, 12 June, personnel from the Civil Protection Department were still dealing with the spill as by this time water currents had moved it from the Freeport Terminal to Pretty Bay. It was only late on Tuesday, 16 June that the Environmental Health Department certified that Pretty Bay was once more fit for swimming.

 

Unfortunately, such accidents are bound to happen. That they do not happen more often is only due to adequate training and the availability of the adequately maintained equipment available on  site.

The Freeport Terminal extension – approved five years ago by MEPA and currently in hand – is intended to tap into the container movement market in the Mediterranean even further. In the coming years, this will lead to a increased activity and, consequently, the likelihood of similar but more frequent accidents happening in the future is possible.

The Freeport Terminal activity is only one of a number which, over the years, have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. Delimara Power station and fish- farming  as well as the ever-present fuel reception points at the San Luċjan and Enemalta stations are other examples of industrial activity along the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. We should also remember that, at some time in the near future, bathers at Pretty Bay will also have an enhanced landscape: they will be able to enjoy in full view a gas storage tanker permanently anchored just opposite the sandy beach, along the Delimara part of the Marsaxlokk Bay coastline. The spectacle will include its refuelling between eight and 12 times a year, with possibly three of such refuelling instances occurring during the summer bathing season.

The compatibility of this situation with the EU Seveso Directives is debatable.

All this industrial activity may be healthy when considering the general economic requirements of the country on its own. It is, however, generally incompatible with the needs of Birżebbuġa both as a residential community as well as a touristic venue.

Efforts to mitigate the impacts of this industrial activity on the residential community  of Birżebbuġa (and to an extent even on the locality of Marsaxlokk) are in place. Yet with so much going on, the effects of these mitigation measures are necessarily limited. In fact, one wonders why the decision to locate all this industrial activity in the area was not also accompanied by a decision to restrict the development of land for residential use so close to these industrial facilities. In one particular case, at il-Qajjenza in the 1980s,  residential development was accelerated in the vicinity of the then Enemalta Gas Depot. Fortunately the Gas Depot has now been closed down and decommissioned, however it has been moved to the other side of Birżebbuġa, close to the entrance of Marsaxlokk Bay at Bengħajsa.

 

The Freeport Terminal management, supported by MEPA, had also decided to extend the permissible facilities at the Freeport Terminal to include minor repair work to ships and oil rigs. The decision was only reversed when it was faced with the vociferous opposition of the Birżebbuġa residential community led by its local council.

Recently, Transport Malta has added to the summer pleasures at Birżebbuġa. It has planned a mooring area for pleasure craft and small boats adjacent to the swimming zone, right in the middle of Pretty Bay. It seems that Transport Malta does not give a fig about the impact of anti-fouling agents used on a large number of craft berthed very close to a swimming zone.

 

With all this activity going on around Pretty Bay, it is inevitable that that there will be an increase in unacceptable environmental impacts on land, air and sea. Some accidents will also be inevitable.

As a result, however, it is very possible that in future there will be further restrictions on the use of Pretty Bay as a bathing venue. One hopes that this will not be often. It is, however, unavoidable and is the direct result of the ongoing activity which is definitely incompatible with the needs and requirements of the Birżebbuġa residents.

One interesting development at the time of writing is that Hon. Marlene Farrugia, as Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on the Environment and Development Planning, has placed last week’s incidents at the Freeport Terminal on the Parliamentary Committee’s agenda. For the time being, a request for information has been sent out. The resulting discussion will hopefully direct the spotlight on the manner in which successive governments have transformed Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port, in the process at times ignoring – and at other times not giving sufficient attention to the plight of the residents in the area.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 21 June 2015

L-għawm fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa ta’ Birżebbuġa

pretty-bay

 

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra kellna żewġ inċidenti fil-Freeport.

L-ewwel inċident seħħ it-Tnejn 8 ta’ Ġunju meta ntlaqat container li nfaqa’ u parti mill-kontenut likwidu tiegħu spiċċa l-baħar. Sal-Ġimgħa 12 ta’ Ġunju, tard fil-għaxja, l-ħaddiema tad-Dipartiment tal-Protezzjoni Ċivili kienu għadhom sejrin bil-ħidma ta’ tindif. Sadanittant il-Bajja s-Sabiħa baqgħet magħluqa sakemm it-testijiet tal-kwalità tal-ilma baħar li qed isiru mid-Dipartiment tas-Saħħa Ambjentali jagħtu riżultati tajbin, ċjoe li jista’ jsir l-għawm.

Sadanittant kellna inċident ieħor u s-Sibt waranofsinnhar sitt ħaddiema tal-Freeport iddaħħlu l-isptar bħala prewkazzjoni minħabba rwejjaħ ta’ gass li x’aktarx ikkawżaw uġiegħ ta’ ras u dardir.

Fortunatament ftit li xejn kellna inċidenti ta’ din ix-xorta, u dan  minħabba li kemm il-management kif ukoll il–ħaddiema tal-Freeport jaħdmu sewwa u bil-galbu. It-taħriġ kontinwu li jingħata lill-ħaddiema kollha tal-Freeport, kif ukoll l-apparat addattat li jintuża jgħinu biex inaqqsu l-possibilità ta’ inċidenti. Imma huwa inevitabbli li iktar ma jiżdied ix-xogħol fil-Freeport [u bl-estensjoni tal-Freeport, ix-xogħol ser jiżdied] tiżdied ukoll il-probabiltà ta’ iktar inċidenti.

Ma dan trid iżżid ukoll il-ħidma bil-gass tal-Power Station ta’ Delimara. Faċċata tal-Bajja s-Sabiħa suppost li jkollna tanker permanenti fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk biex fih jinħażen il-gass. Bejn tmien u tnax-il darba fis-sena jidħol ukoll tanker ieħor biex iġib iktar provisti ta’ gass.

Jiġifieri fil-bajja l-problemi ser jiżdiedu mhux ser jonqsu.   Ma noħodiex bi kbira li l-ġranet li fihom ma jkunx possibli li jsir l-għawm fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa ukoll ser jiżdiedu. L-inċidenti tal-ġimgħa l-oħra huma indikazzjoni ta’ x’hemm lest għalina.

Dan hu l-prezz ta’ dak li uħud isejħulu progress jew żvilupp. Huwa l-prova ta’ kemm kellhom raġun dawk kollha li opponew l-estensjoni tal- Freeport.

Terrimoti, tsunami, u l-protezzjoni ċivili f’Malta

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Il-bieraħ il-gazzetti online kellhom storja komuni. F’riċerka li saret bejn akkademiċi mill-Universita’ ta’ Portsmouth flimkien ma akkademiċi md-Dipartiment tal-Ġografija tal-Universita’ ta’ Malta ikkonkludew li fil-passat imbiegħed Malta kienet soġġetta għall-effett ta’ tsunami, riżultat ta’ terrimoti li seħħew madwarna.

Mewġ ta’ mhux inqas minn 4 metri għoli jidher li ħalla effett f’żoni sa 20 metru il-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar. Mewġ b’veloċita’ ikbar minn 30 kilometru fis-siegħa ikaxkar kull ma jsib quddiemu.

Jidher li r-riċerka indikat il-kosta li tħares lejn il-grigal (North-East) bħala li l-iktar li kienet effettwata: mill-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa sa Marsakala u possibilment Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuga ukoll. Għawdex hemm Marsalforn,

Issa l-kosta ta’ Malta b’faċċata tħares lejn il-grigal hi l-iktar populata, bil-bini jasal kważi sal-baħar. Hi ukoll iż-żona li fiħa l-parti l-kbira tal-infrastruttura turistika kif ukoll il-power station ta’ Delimara.

Li Malta hi esposta għal dan il-periklu naturali mhux xi ħaġa li nafuha illum. Imma li illum hemm dan l-istudju konkluż forsi jkun hemm ftit min jiftaħ għajnejh dwar il-ħtieġa li nifhmu illi d-Dipartiment għall-Protezzjoni Ċivili jeħtieġ iktar riżorsi u nies imħarrġa biex il-pajjiż ikunu ippreparat għal dan il-periklu naturali. Periklu li jista’ jkun fuqna fil-qrib, u jista’ jkun fuqna fil-bogħod. M’hu magħruf minn ħadd il-meta. Imma jiġi meta jiġi, bħala pajjiż s’issa m’aħniex ippreparati.

 

Ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog

29 t’April 2013: Malta u l-iżbroff tal-vulkan Marsilii.

Mercaptan: blunder or collusion ?

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