September 5th. – A powerful earthquake shook the north-west of Costa Rica today. The US Geological Survey said the 7.6-magnitude quake occurred beneath the Nicoya peninsula, 140km (87 miles) west of the capital, San Jose. A tsunami alert was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, but cancelled within hours. Power and communications were briefly knocked out throughout much of the country, according to the Costa Rican authorities. Regional media reported the quake could be felt as far away as Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Costa Rica is geologically speaking, an active country. As well as frequent earthquakes (2 of greater than magnitude 5 hit the country during 2011), the country is also home to six well-known active volcanoes and more than 60 dormant and extinct volcanoes. Active volcanoes include Arenal, Irazu, Poas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tenorio and Turrialba, which has been rumbling for much of 2012. The country’s volcanoes are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Scientists had been predicting today’s earthquake for some time, and whether by good fortune or preparation, the human costs of the quakes have been very low. The Red Cross said a 55-year-old woman died of a heart attack in Guanacaste, near the epicentre of the quake, and a construction worker was killed when a wall collapsed as a result of today’s quake. Despite landslides and blocked rivers during the 2011 quakes, no casualties were reported as a direct result of them either.
Although today’s earthquake knocked out cell phone communications in parts of the country (as also happened during the 2011 quakes), these were quickly restored, and available again in most areas before landline telecommunications or power supplies. This reinforces the need for the emergency services to have access to emergency and mass notification systems that allow messages to be sent using multiple communication media. Many people were reported to be getting their news from Twitter and Facebook while traditional media was still unavailable.
Regroup, with its facility to initiate messages from remote devices and send messages to cell phones (either as voice or text), email addresses and social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) would have helped to maintain contact throughout the aftermath of the earthquake and improved emergency responses and clean-up operations.