Community News Local People

Preparing for What We Hope Won’t Happen

Feb 05, 2018 Editor

by Sue Stroud, citizen reporter

Last month a 7.9 earthquake just off the coast of Alaska prompted a tsunami warning for the entire BC and US west coast. While the warning was called off within a few hours, it has served as a wake-up call for many on the west coast, the Capital Region included.

Learning what earthquakes are and what they are capable of doing is a major step to becoming knowledgeably prepared.

In the first 24 hours following the all-clear more than 28,000 people signed up for Victoria’s emergency warning system and emergency supplies were flying off local store shelves. “We’ve had non-stop calls and visits,” said Zenia Platten of Total Prepare Inc. Canada saying that they have sold out of most of their 72-hour emergency kits. “But more are on order and they will be here shortly. We saw a big uptick in our online sales and on our chatline.“

We on the West Coast of North America are expecting an earthquake we lovingly call the Big One. There is about a one in 100,000 chance of a megathrust earthquake hitting on any given day. It’s believed that the quake will be a subduction zone quake – reaching 8 or 9 on the Richter scale. What we don’t hear much about are the many smaller, more frequent but equally dangerous quakes that are also expected to come our way. Most of these are what’s called strike-slip quakes. And while these are unlikely to trigger a tsunami, they can cause serious damage and injuries if precautions are not taken.

But what can we do? Well, the Department of Public Safety says plenty

But what can we do? Well, the Department of Public Safety says plenty. In their Emergency Preparedness Guide they say know the risks, make a plan and put together an emergency kit.

Step 1: Know the Risks

Learning what earthquakes are and what they are capable of doing is a major step to becoming knowledgeably prepared.

A popular regional resource is a book called At Risk-Earthquakes and Tsunamis on the West Coast written by John Clague, Chris Yorath, Richard Franklin and Bob Turner. This book provides important information on the powerful earth forces at work in the western and off-shore areas of BC, with special emphasis on earthquakes and tsunamis. Included are the many effects of earthquakes such as ground shaking, landslides and liquefaction, and societal and individual measures that can be taken to reduce the damage and loss of life from earthquakes and tsunamis. You’ll find copies at local libraries, bookstores and the Royal BC Museum Gift Shop. (Note: this reporter read the book – it’s an easy read, very enjoyable with interesting facts, good advice all delivered with a sense of humour – highly recommend it)

Get informed online. Master of Disaster is an online course offered by the Province. It’s designed for use in schools – but has information and multi-media links that can inform even the most well-versed disaster novice.

For the real disaster geeks among us the Canadian Disaster Database tracks significant disaster event. Or there’s the ever-popular seismic monitor offered on the IRIS site.

Step 2: Make a Plan

Learning how the BC Emergency system works will help you create a plan. When an emergency strikes is not the time to be phoning the emergency responders for information.

Find out the risks and hazards in your own neighbourhood and then make a plan for your family

Chris Duffy, Executive Director for Operations, Emergency Management BC says, “Personal accountability is an important element of preparedness. Find out the risks and hazards in your own neighbourhood and then make a plan for your family. Doing it one step at a time makes it easier. It’s hard for some people to think about the possibilities, but being prepared can make you safer and it is very empowering.”

Your municipalities are here to help. Contact your local community organization and see if they or your municipality are offering preparedness workshops. Central Saanich Community Association and the Brentwood Bay Marine Community Society have recently toured the BC Emergency Operations Centre on Keating Road in Central Saanich. There they learned what and who activates the Operations Centre, how the various jurisdictions hand-off to each other during an emergency, why you should never phone 911 and ask if that rumble you just felt was an earthquake, and much more. You can make an appointment for your group to take a tour by calling or mailing Ian Foss, Emergency Centre Manager at 250-952-4904, Ian.Foss@gov.bc.ca.

Peninsula Emergency Measures Organization (PEMO) offers their Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness Program to Central and North Saanich, and Sidney.

The municipality of Saanich will deliver a one-hour emergency preparedness presentation to community, PAC, church, service clubs, strata or neighbourhood groups. They have one organized for the public on March 25th at the Saanich Commonwealth Place.  More info can be found HERE.

An important part of your plan should be the ability to connect with other members of your family during and after the crisis

Another great way to inform your plan is to call your local Fire Department and ask them to come talk to your group about your community’s emergency plan. Find out where you fit in, what help they may need, how you can organize your street and ask about every kind of emergency. You can even ask for training on the proper use of fire extinguishers.

Central Saanich Emergency facility tour

An important part of your plan should be the ability to connect with other members of your family during and after the crisis. Local phones may be jammed or down but out-of-province calls might connect when local calls won’t. Deciding on an out-of-province contact is essential. Make sure you and every family member know who your out-of-province contact is and how to reach them. When you are all separated you can each call that person and let them know your status so they can relay that info to the rest of your family as they call in.

Emergency preparedness presentations will go over some of the more obvious things that you can do to make your home and family safer in the event of a disaster like securing your hot water tank, bookshelves, and large mirrors to the wall; moving your bed away from windows and overhead shelves away from your bed; keeping a vehicle with a full tank of gas. But they will also offer things that you may not have thought of at all – as may the other participants.

Organizing neighbourhoods and/or streets to respond together in a disaster is a growing trend. The City of Victoria is currently running pilot projects in this area – limited to residents in Victoria. Check with your local community association for opportunities to access organizing tools.

Step 3: Get an Emergency Kit

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do is get your emergency kit(s) together. Many websites can assist you in designing your kit. A good place to start is on the Prepared BC site or the federal government’s GetPrepared.gc.ca. Both will tell you the basics as well as some special considerations for seniors, babies, nursing mothers, people with disabilities and pets. The province also provides information on what you need to know in the event of a zombie attack. Yep, zombies. (Note that the federal government doesn’t shy away from their responsibility in our protection from zombies either – see video HERE)

A minimum of 4 litres of water per person per day – 8 in the heat of the summer

No matter who provides you with emergency kit information, all will stress the importance of water (a minimum of 4 litres per person per day – 8 in the heat of the summer and don’t forget some for the pets). And if putting it together is too much trouble – you can buy a complete kit from many local retailers including Columbia Fire & Safety, Quake Kit, and Capital Iron. Retailers can be a valuable information resource as well. Some suggest that you include a small kit in each of your vehicles, at your place of work, on your boat and camper.

And don’t forget to do your part to lesson the chaos should an event happen. Letting others know that you’re okay, or not, is helpful. Get your I’m OK or HELP! Window sign HERE.

If all this sounds interesting to you, you might consider volunteering to be part of the emergency social services in your community, or getting special training to be extra useful in the event of an emergency.
For Saanich go HERE,  Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich go HERE.

St John’s Ambulance or the Red Cross for First Aid Training.



Learn to be a ham radio operator.

Take a rapid damage assessment course.

Become a response recovery volunteer.

ALERTS: As learned during the tsunami alert in January, alert systems in the Capital Region vary but change is coming – at every level of government.

On the federal level the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) directed all wireless service providers to implement a wireless public alerting system on their LTE (long-term evolution) networks by April of this year. This system will allow emergency management officials, such as fire marshals and police agencies, to warn Canadians on their mobile devices of dangers to life and property with a special tone and vibration so that people will be able to differentiate this alert from others.

Service providers have also been tasked by the CRTC to work with their federal, provincial and territorial counterparts to develop an awareness campaign and test schedule – coming to a cell phone near you.

Emergency Management B.C. operates AlertReady the province’s current alert system used to notify local authorities. AlertReady broadcasts public safety announcements on major television and radio stations and will include text alerts by April of this year. Mobile-device customers will not be able to opt-out of the notifications, allowing blanket coverage for alerts. The system is only used during large-scale disasters or emergencies.

Emergency Management B.C. also posts online at: emergencyinfobc.gov.bc.ca as well as Twitter at @EmergencyInfoBC.

Duffy says that people should still sign up for local warming systems saying that, “It’s important to remember that there is no cookie-cutter solution to alerts, different areas will need to be notified in different ways. People need to take ownership and sign up for the alert systems that are available to them.”