LCQ12: Contingency Plan for Natural Disasters

     Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, to a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-hing in the Legislative Council today (December 15):


     An earthquake with a magnitude of 2.8 on the Richter Scale occurred on November 19 this year in Deep Bay of Shenzhen, which is adjacent to Hong Kong, and members of the public in many districts of Hong Kong could feel the tremor.  Some members of the public have relayed to me that this earthquake, the epicentre of which was right next to Hong Kong, has not only reminded us that the impact of earthquakes on Hong Kong should not be taken lightly, but has also revealed that the awareness of different government departments and the community towards precautionary and safety measures for earthquakes is poor.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the authorities have studied and assessed the situation and risk of the epicentres of the felt earthquakes recorded in Hong Kong being closer to Hong Kong, as well as the possibility of such earthquakes occurring;

(b) when an earthquake or even an intense earthquake occurs in Hong Kong, apart from the dissemination of relevant information by the Hong Kong Observatory, what early warning and contingency measures other government departments will take; whether the authorities have a comprehensive classification and contingency plan to minimise the casualties and losses caused by unexpected earthquake hazards; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) whether the authorities will review the existing practice and contingency plan in response to earthquakes, including the setting up of an earthquake emergency response centre so that various government departments can effectively handle different emergency situations triggered off by an earthquake; if so, of the timetable for conducting such a review; and

(d) given that there have been comments that after the earthquake, not only had the government departments on the Mainland released accurate information, but the Mainland schools had also, upon the release of the news, evacuated students to school playgrounds in an orderly manner, showing that the Mainland is well-prepared and has already adopted various safety measures for earthquakes, yet in Hong Kong, apart from the Observatory releasing wrong information, schools in Hong Kong did not conduct earthquake drills, and there was no territory-wide precautionary contingency measures for earthquakes, whether the Government will step up extensive and in-depth publicity and education efforts for the public on the prevention of various earthquake hazards; if it will, of the details, whether earthquake drills and emergency rehearsals will be carried out in organisations and schools in Hong Kong so as to enhance the awareness and ability of the public in coping with earthquake hazards, so that they will not be at a loss when earthquakes occur; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



(a) According to geological structural analysis of the Geotechnical Engineering Office, the faults in Hong Kong and nearby waters are not active.  The geological settings are not conducive to causing strong earthquakes.  Earthquakes that occur in Hong Kong and its vicinity can shake the ground to the extent felt by people, but the chance of causing serious damage is very low.

     The Hong Kong Observatory's record shows that since 1979, a total of six felt earth tremors had occurred with the epicentres located within Hong Kong, whilst others occurred outside the territory.  Most of these tremors were minor ones with magnitude below 5 on the Modified Mercalli Scale (1 the lowest, 12 the highest).

(b) and (c) In respect of emergency response, the Government has put in place a Contingency Plan for Natural Disasters which sets out comprehensive emergency response arrangements in case of major natural disasters including earthquakes.  In the extremely unlikely event of a severe earthquake causing widespread damages to Hong Kong, the Security Bureau (SB) will immediately activate the Emergency Response System and the Contingency Plan for Natural Disasters.  The Emergency Monitoring and Support Centre (EMSC) will start operation and work closely with the command and co-ordination centres of the emergency services and support agencies in discharging the three principal phases of emergency response, i.e. the Rescue, Recovery and Restoration Phases.  The EMSC will maintain close contact with frontline departments through their co-ordination centres to obtain and collate information on the overall situation, so as to assess the situation, monitor the course of development and co-ordinate the Government's overall response.  It will also ensure that the departments undertake their responsibilities as set out in the Contingency Plan for Natural Disasters.

     Generally speaking, in the event of a major natural disaster, rescue operations including saving lives, protecting property and containing the situation will be mainly carried out by the emergency services such as the Fire Services Department, Hong Kong Police Force and the Government Flying Service, with the support from other departments and agencies.  The emergency services in Hong Kong are well trained and adequately equipped to handle various emergency situations.  The Hong Kong Observatory and the Information Services Department will provide up-to-date information to the public, so that they are aware of the situation and any protective measures that they should take as advised by the Government.

     As regards recovery work, the relief co-ordinating departments will oversee and co-ordinate all disaster relief efforts to provide the necessary emergency supplies and other assistance for the victims.

     For the restoration of the community to the state prior to the disaster, relevant works departments and agencies will carry out repair works to damaged facilities in the affected areas as soon as possible in order to bring them back to normal.

     The current Emergency Response System and the EMSC are effective in coping with different natural disasters.  In handling various critical incidents and disasters (including those arising from natural disasters) previously, the system and the centre worked very well.  

(d) In the event of an emergency, the Government will immediately issue warnings through radio, television broadcasting and government website to inform members of the public and help them take appropriate precautions as soon as possible.

     Even though the likelihood of having serious earthquake in Hong Kong is very slim, for purpose of prevention, government departments have issued advice as appropriate to enhance public awareness and preparedness for natural disasters as well as drawing public attention to matters of concern in different emergency situations.  For example, the SB has published a booklet entitled "Simple Guidelines in the Event of Major Mishaps" to provide the public with simple and effective precautions against natural disasters and serious accidents, as well as guidelines on how to reduce risks, and protect their lives and properties from mishaps.  The booklet covers precautions against natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones, storm surges, rainstorms, thunderstorms, floodings, landslips and strong monsoons.  Copies of the booklet have been distributed to district offices of the Home Affairs Department, schools and the Social Welfare Department for reference of students and members of the public.  The content of the booklet is also available on the SB's website.  Organisations and schools may, in line with their own needs, arrange drills and exercises for various natural disasters.

     Apart from monitoring earthquakes and issuing earthquake information, the Hong Kong Observatory also promotes public understanding of earthquakes and safety precautions in case members of the public feel an intense shake.  The Hong Kong Observatory has issued safety guidelines for observance during and after an earthquake and uploaded such information onto its website.  A leaflet entitled "Earthquake and Hong Kong" has also been issued for public information.  In addition, the Hong Kong Observatory has been promoting knowledge on earthquakes during its annual open day and through public scientific lectures.  These help the public understand local earthquake risks and basic safety rules.

Ends/Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:33