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Family Preparedness for Earthquakes

This promoted preparedness steps specific to where people live, and in plain language explained the science behind local risk. Outreach in Kreyol, French, Spanish, and English.


Plate motions from Prentice et al, 2003

Hispaniola Earthquake Faults

Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated along the boundary of two major tectonic plates. The Caribbean plate is steadily pushing northeast, relative to the North American plate pushing westward. This results in Hispaniola’s geologic “battle ground.” The plates must slide past each other, but they also are forced together, or compressed. Slip along the faults accommodate the squeeze; and each abrupt movement produces an earthquake. The bigger the area that slips, the larger the earthquake (and tsunami). Tsunamis are triggered when a fault moves under the ocean or by submarine landslides, which themselves can be triggered by earthquakes.

Hispaniola has many active faults, but four fault zones are likely to produce the largest earthquakes: the Septentrional fault, Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, North Hispaniola fault (a continuation of the Puerto Rico trench), and the Muertos trough. Through understanding where large earthquakes and tsunamis are likely to occur, we know where the impacts to people will be most damaging, and where taking action to prepare will protect lives.

Many families in Haiti and Dominican Republic live in areas where a damaging earthquake, and the landslides it could trigger, will occur suddenly without warning. A powerful offshore earthquake near the north coast could also quickly generate a lethal tsunami.

The two nations together comprise Hispaniola, a large island in the northeastern Caribbean. Residents generally take steps to be safer from hurricanes and tropical storms that strike every year, but they lack information about how to prepare for earthquakes and tsunamis, which strike at intervals of decades to centuries.

Our program is explaining how an earthquake will affect communities, and how people can better protect their families from harm. With input from local safety committees that GeoHazards International initiated, our in-country staff will develop new public messages. Preparedness stories and graphics may circulate via radio spots, social media, t-shirts, contests and street plays, or even from sound trucks during festivals.

Earthquake preparedness activities will be introduced in schools, churches and in door-to-door campaigns. For example, families can learn practical steps to make their homes more disaster resistant and make a family emergency plan. They can secure heavy objects from falling during an earthquake, and coastal residents can practice safe tsunami evacuation with their children. This outreach will show residents that their actions now can change the outcome in a future disaster.

Communities will at last have actionable earthquake information specific to where they live and in plain language. Working with our technical partner, the U.S. Geological Survey, we will combine best-available science and preparedness information in sourcebooks written in Kreyol, French, Spanish, and English, which everyone working to improve safety can use.

There is an urgency for people in Hispaniola to understand their earthquake risk and prepare. Large cities (Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien and Port-de-Paix in Haiti; Santiago in Dominican Republic) continue to expand in areas of very high seismic risk. Smaller cities in Dominican Republic’s densely populated Cibao Valley and in Haiti’s southern peninsula are also threatened.


Downtown Cap-Haitien is exposed to the sea. That’s a public market at the photo’s center.

This joint U.S. Geological Survey and GeoHazards International program is funded by the generous support of the American people, through USAID and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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