Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


Report on Proceedings of Workshop on the Interpretation, Application and Institutionalization of Storm Surge Maps in the Development Process

Workshop sponsored by the USAID/OAS Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project

Wyndham Kingston Hotel, 15th November 1995
Prepared by Pauline McHardy

1. Introduction

A. Background to the Workshop

Over the past 18 months, the USAID sponsored Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP) has been working in conjunction with local technical agencies to develop realistic flood level maps for hurricane generated surges for the coastal area of Montego Bay. Preliminary maps were presented to local institutions for comments and discussions in August 1994. Based on these discussions which extended into May of 1995, the original maps were revised and the series expanded to cover all category of hurricanes moving along the most likely tracks.

These maps if properly applied, can play an effective role in reducing the likely impacts of surges on coastal development by ensuring that appropriate engineering standards are developed and used for coastal defence works and other structures within the flood zones. They can also be used as a tool for guiding land use decisions by indicating to policy makers the most vulnerable locations and based on this the type of development which should be permitted in these areas.

The workshop on the Interpretation, Application and Institutionalization of Storm Surge Maps in the Development Process was sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS) and United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID). It represented a combined effort by the CDMP and governmental agencies, such as the ODPEM and the St. James Parish Council to identify measures to address the issue of coastal development and emergency management in coastal areas.

B. Objectives

The purpose of the workshop was to have a detailed presentation on how the storm surge maps should be interpreted, the practical application of these maps and how they can become institutionalized as part of the development process. The workshop objectives/outcomes are as follows:

  1. At the end of the workshop it is anticipated that practical ways of incorporating vulnerability mapping in the development approval process will be identified. These recommendations will be presented to Government.
  2. To engage in dialogue and to receive feedback from map users on the practical application of these maps.
  3. Establish a Technical Committee to propose strategies for the adoption and integration of risk maps in the development approval process.
  4. To share information on the interpretation and application of the Montego Bay storm surge maps developed by the CDMP.

C. Opening and Closure of Meeting

Mr. Keith Ford, Regional Coordinator for CDMP chaired the opening session. In his opening remarks he pointed out that approximately 60% of the population of Jamaica lives within 12 miles of the coast, therefore, the greatest stress will occur in this zone. Storm surge and hazard maps should be seen therefore as a tool to guide how best we develop this coastal zone. He also indicated that Jamaica is being used as a case study to document the process used in gaining acceptance of the inclusion of the hazard maps in the development process. It is envisaged that such an assessment will provide useful guidelines to other countries wishing to undertake a similar exercise.

Mr. Bill Gelman, Chief of RHUDO/CAR, USAID brought greetings on behalf of USAID, co-sponsors of the seminar. Mr. Gelman, in his remarks indicated that the General Secretariat of the OAS, under an agreement with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the USAID, is executing a five year Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP). A major component of this project is the generation of a computer based numerical model that produces estimates of storm surge, coastal flooding and extreme wind.

The model can be used to produce storm surge maps and the maps produced for Montego Bay are the first produced world-wide by the model. The original map technology was developed on the SE coast of the United States and although a new technology, is becoming widely accepted. The maps provide important information for zoning and environmental planning and can be used to identify high risk areas. Through this process it therefore is possible for disasters to be avoided or mitigated by building according to defined standards.

In closing, Mr. Gelman said Jamaica was specifically chosen because it is a "high risk" area and also it was felt that people would want to use the information. He pointed out that this was not an exercise in producing maps, but must have sustained use. Montego Bay was selected as a pilot project to examine ways in which hazard maps could be institutionalized in land use planning process. He urged participants in the workshop to utilize to its fullest the information presented at the workshop.

The workshop was formally opened by his Worship the Mayor of Montego bay, Counselor Arthur Gilchrist. In declaring the workshop open His Worship the Mayor, pointed out that Montego Bay gains most of its livelihood from tourism and most of the community of Montego Bay has some relationship with the foreshore. He therefore expressed the view that the preparation of these maps were timely and was happy that Montego Bay had been selected for the pilot phase.

He went on to say that he was looking forward to the discussions of the workshop as he was anxious to take back knowledge and information from the workshop which he would use to enhance the relevance and usefulness of disaster management. His Worship the Mayor indicated his intention of participating fully in the workshop and urged participants to recognize the importance of the workshop.

Ms. Jennifer Worrell, the Regional Disaster Adviser, RHUDO/CAR, USAID then outlined the Workshop Objectives and Outcomes to participants.

The workshop provided a forum for 32 public sector and private sector practitioners in development to discuss and make recommendations on the issue of incorporating hazard maps in the development process. The list of participants is given at Annex 1.

Mr. Keith Ford in closing the meeting requested that a small technical committee consisting of public and private practitioners be established to ensure that action is taken on the recommendations of the workshop. The Committee named is as follows:

2. Presentation and Discussion

A. Storm Surge Maps for Montego Bay – Mr. Chuck Watson

Mr. Watson, in discussing the philosophy behind the storm surge maps pointed out that there is no such phenomenon as a natural disaster, but disasters do occur because of man’s activities getting in the way of natural events. He stated that hurricanes are important to the water cycle in the tropics, important sources of water and important in transferring heat in the tropics. Events to break up hurricanes have been inconclusive and we just do not know enough about the consequences of such action. Therefore it becomes important that we build our systems to deal with these events.

In this regard, there are two questions that we need to ask: (1) what are the effects of the event and (2) how often does it occur. How we use storm surge maps depends on these two questions. The effects of the event can be seen in terms of what happens on the coast i.e., storm surge, wave action and wind hazard.

Storm surge is composed of five (5) parts as follows:

  1. Wind set-up: this pushes water around and water piles up. This is more important in the USA than in Jamaica where water may only reach as high as one meter.
  2. Wave set-up: this occurs when waves come in and break. Most of the modelling shows wave set-up and wind set-up about equal in the Caribbean.
  3. Rainfall runoff: this can add as much as one meter in some places due in large part to development in the area.
  4. Wave action: there is need to clearly identify the areas vulnerable to wave action.
  5. Pressure set-up

Mr. Watson pointed out that one of the reasons we have to use numerical models is because historical data might not always be reliable due to changes of action within the storm, development, vegetation and every storm is different based on the track of the storm. Numerical models on the other hand, are fairly reliable. There are problems in determining return times, experience of the last 25 years. There is a fifty/fifty chance of having 100 year storm in the other 25 years.

With regard to the effects of storms, south to north storms are less likely to occur in Montego Bay; east to west storms would pump water into Montego Bay before reaching the Bay producing swells in the Bay. Southwest storms would be the worst for Montego Bay as they would be pumping water constantly in the Bay.

The type of events which are modeled, give some indication of what kind of structures should be constructed. The further you are into a zone, the greater the precautions that you need to take in the design considerations of the structure, e.g., infrastructure should not be on the lower floor. If you are directly located on the coast it might not be such a good idea to build in the zone.

B. Discussion

During the discussion the following points were raised:

3. Panel Discussion

Topic: Application and Use of Storm Surge and Other Vulnerability/Risk Maps by Technical Agencies
Panelist: Mr. Philbert Brown, Hydrologist, Underground Water Authority

Mr. Brown in his presentation described the Flood Plain Mapping Project undertaken by the UWA. The Rio Cobre Automated Flood Warning System came out of a project initiated by the ODPEM to set up a pilot flood warning system on the Rio Cobre. Jamaica, because of its geographic location is susceptible to flooding due to ponding which destroys life and property and has significant economic consequences.

The Pilot Flood Warning System closed in 1989, and a Hydrological Support Unit Project was set up at UWA to continue and complete the project. In 1994, HSUP completed all the work related to flood plain mapping. The project is able to monitor real time data with telemated rain gauges that send data into a main computer at UWA and other computers at ODPEM and the Met Office, giving all agencies the capacity to monitor. On of the objectives of the project is to have in place a Riverine Flood Warning System. There is the capability of linking to the Rio Minho and other river basins and thus produce a central flood warning system. The system is able to monitor water levels and give warnings of flooding to take place downstream in a rain event.

An application of the flood warning system is mapping of the flood plain. This is done through the use of rainfall data, a model of the flood plain and a model of the catchment area. It is possible through these maps, to determine return periods and say to people living in the flood plain when to expect such periods. One of the objectives of the flood plain mapping exercise is to save life and property. One method of doing this is to charge excessive insurance rates. This is possible by determining the flood intensity level and then assessing the value of each household living in the reach of the river. The risks of living in each level of the river can be calculated. UWA hopes to continue the project in 1996/97 and has included it in its budget. The resultant information will be made available to PIOJ, TPD etc.


Panelist: Joy Alexander, Deputy Government Town Planner, TPD

Miss Alexander pointed out that a significant proportion of the island’s urban areas are located in coastal areas or sites that are susceptible to flooding. With increasing urbanization, we have recognized the need to develop a comprehensive flood plain and coastal management programme that carefully reviews the options for preventative and remedial approaches to initiate the effects of hydrological hazards on development. Hazard management ought to be incorporated into development planning. Most of the techniques used in both process are compatible namely:

  1. Natural hazard assessment – evaluates location, extent and occurrence of the event.
  2. Vulnerability assessment – extent of loss or drainage as a result of the event personal injuries, structural damage, disruption of economic activities and effects in settlements.
  3. Risk assessment – estimated possible loss.

The application of an integrated development planning approach in hazard management provides the opportunity for:

The programme must therefore combine two actions namely preventative and remedial. These are areas in which TPD can play an important role.

Preventive Approaches

Preventative flood management approaches relate to land use control, land use planning, zoning, subdivision control and flood plain regulations e.g., elevating of buildings. TPD needs to implement minimum land use requirements within the various flood return periods e.g., 100 year. This measure can prevent new developments with high damage potential from being located within high risk areas. These requirements are however not effective in minimizing existing structures in the high risk areas.

The Department will discuss land use requirements and standards with public and private sector agencies so that we can collectively address the issues and develop appropriate policies and guidelines. In some instances the flood plain may have to be left as open space. Another approach is the acquisition of flood plain land or development rights to these land. Acquisition may need to apply a multiple use approach – parks, recreation, preservation of open space, preservation f environmentally sensitive areas.

Remedial Approach

In developed flood plain areas where structures already exist, application of land use control will not have an immediate impact on flood damage potential, additional actions are required if the objective to reduce impact of flood is to be achieved. The type of remedial management needed relates to planning, design, construction and maintenance of facilities to reduce flood damage potential. The options include flood control works, retrofitting of existing structures, flood detection and warning systems, of structures and public awareness programmes.

TDP will incorporate these storm surge and flood plain maps into the Development Order but in doing so we need to discuss with the relevant agencies the application of policy guidelines and strategies as they relate to land use, the intensity and design of developments in these high risk areas. This must be complemented by a series of public education programmes.

Perhaps what we need to look at in the long run for the island is a master drainage plan that identifies the problem, defines the limit of the flood plain, outlines proposed preventative and remedial actions. Given our present ad hoc approach to flood mitigation measures, it is difficult to achieve coordination and consistency of action in resolving impact of hydrological hazards.


Panelist: Mr. Paul Saunders, Director of Research, ODPEM

Mr. Saunders indicated ODPEM’s concern about the sustained activity consequent on the preparation of these maps. ODPEM was very concerned about the continuation of the Flood Plain Mapping exercise and would like to see these maps and the storm surge maps incorporated in Development Orders, thus ensuring they are used.

He went on to say that ODPEM uses these maps as integral planning tool in its three areas of activity: prevention, mitigation and preparedness. With regard to prevention, they are important in determining the location of infrastructure; roads, bridges etc. If these maps had been available prior to the construction of some of these facilities, other decisions might have been taken about their location.

The maps also have an important role to play in mitigation as they are:

  1. used to advise persons how to safely build their structures;
  2. used in early warning systems and;
  3. used to provide information on safe evacuation routes and places to relocate residents.

With regard to preparedness ODPEM has used the maps to reinforce this aspect of its work through a public education programme. Working with an NGO and Parish Disaster Committees, ODPEM has been involved in a housing retrofit programme with communities located in areas of high risk. The response to this programme has been very positive and as a result ODPEM is pushing the programme.

Mr. Saunders expressed some concern about the need for proper interpretation of these maps and the need for training in the use of the maps. He suggested that maybe there should not be wide spread distribution of the maps, but rather that training be provided to a cadre of persons or a core of agencies and these persons be used for proper interpretation.

ODPEM will be providing funds in its 1996/97 budget to help UWA extend the flood plain mapping exercise to the Rio Minho and other flood plains.


Discussion Session: Institutionalizing Risk Maps in the Development Process

Facilitator: Pauline McHardy

The purpose of this discussion was to focus on the identification of opportunities/ways of having storm surge and other maps incorporated in the development process. The background paper Storm hazard Assessment for Montego Bay, Jamaica provided a conceptual framework for the meeting. The presentation of storm surge maps for Montego Bay provided information on trends in the development of storm surge maps, the interpretation of technical/statistical data associated with the surge maps and their application or relevance in the development process.

In the process of formulating their recommendations for the inclusion of hazard mapping in the development process two major issues were identified from the presentations and earlier discussions. Workshop participants deliberated on these issues during this session and formulated a number of strategies to reconcile these issues. Specific activities required to ensure implementation of the strategies identified were also formulated.

In identifying these issues participants expressed a great deal of concern that not only the general public understand the significance of hazard risks maps as a tool in risk management, but more importantly that politicians also recognize the importance of these issues in the development approval process. The education of the politician was seen as critical to the process.

Concern was also expressed by the participants that a number of Acts do not bind the Crown, namely the Town and Country Planning Act, the Housing Act and the Urban Development Corporation Act. Participants expressed the view that these Acts should not be used to circumvent the approval process. If the approval process is slow every effort must be made to improve the process rather than bypassing it as this has resulted in the past of housing schemes being approved in flood prone areas.

ISSUE I: To Improve the Development Approval Process so that Consideration of Natural Hazards is fully Integrated in the Process and a Broader Range of Public Participation

Strategy I

Proper delineation of hazard areas and their translation into higher building standards for vulnerable locations; restrict construction of critical or life-line facilities in these areas.

Activity 1.1: Undertake accurate mapping of hazards and provide required data bases to determine level of risks in order to improve the use of data and information at all stages of the planning process.

Activity 1.2: Provide proper documentation of existing hazard damage areas such as:

  1. Portmore
  2. Kingston Metropolitan Area as far as Portland Bight
  3. Negril
  4. St. Thomas Coastline

Activity 1.3: Promulgate the National Building Code as a legal document. There is urgent need to make the use of the National Building Code mandatory.

Activity 1.4: Strengthen design standards for structures located in coastal and flood prone environments which are subject to natural hazard forces. The National Building Code of Jamaica should be expanded to include a section 4.1.4 related to water and flooding, as applies to wind, earthquake and other hazards. The Code as currently published does not include a section on flooding.

Strategy 2: Promote application of appropriate tools for planning and management in areas associated with hazard risks.

Activity 2.1: A review of current standards for hazard protection set out in the Development Manual is urgently needed as a first step in preparing new guidelines for public and private developers. This review should consider issues such as:

Activity 2.2: Inclusion of more detailed requirements for hazard prone areas in the Development Manual.

Strategy 3: Zoning restrictions are needed to ensure public safety, community development and the integrity of special areas. Hazard mapping should be a consideration in the preparation of Development Orders. In this regard, zoning requirements should include the following:

Activity 3.1: Prepare Development Orders for the entire island. Currently, only the coastal areas and some parishes are covered by Development Orders. In the preparation of these Orders, the Town Planning Department and the Authority will have to adopt a new strategy in order to reduce the time period currently required for the preparation of such Orders.

Activity 3.2: Greater local participation must be employed in the preparation of Development Orders and Development Plans.

Activity 3.3: Greater collaboration is required between the economic planning and physical planning in the decision-making process. There is not enough recognition of the fact that land-use planning is critical to national economic development. The problems of land-use and development can act as severe constraints on employment generation. In this regard, it would seem that the issue of land development needs to be accorded a much higher priority in public policy than it is now receiving. For the fact is that land lies at the very heart of the economic, social and cultural development process.

Activity 3.4: Training in the interpretation of hazard maps for officers in the Town Planning Department, Local Authorities and all Government Agencies charged with the application of these maps should be undertaken with some urgency.

ISSUE II: Need to Provide an Effective Legal and Regulatory Framework

Strategy I: Make laws and regulations more effective.

Activity 1.1: Undertake a review of existing legislation which impact on hazard "planning" and the roles and responsibilities and conflicts of all agencies involved, in particular, conflicts between the Town and Country Planning Act and the Natural Resources Act as regards to the granting of development permission.

Activity 1.2: The Planning and regulatory process that guides development in Jamaica should be strengthened. There is need to improve the Inspectorate systems to provide the level of service needed to enforce the provisions of the National Building Code and other regulatory mechanisms, and in doing this, protect the public from future natural hazards.

Activity 1.3: There is need for constant dialogue and exchange of information between the technicians, the public and the politicians. In this regard, there is need to develop public education programmes which simplify the hazard mapping process and its importance in being used as a tool to protect life and property. Preparation and distribution of guidance material.

Activity 1.4: Specialized training including workshops, seminars, education programmes and conferences for public officials who design, implement, monitor and enforce laws and regulations to be undertaken.

Activity 1.5: Institutional capacity for collecting compliance data, regularly reviewing compliance, detecting violations, establishing enforcement priorities, undertaking effective enforcement and conducting periodic evaluation of the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement programmes should be strengthened.

Strategy 2: Include vulnerability analysis as part of EIA

Activity 2.1: Revision and amendment of NRCA Regulations.

CDMP home page: Project Contacts Page Last Updated: 20 April 2001