Category: Science

Is B.C. ready for an earthquake?

Reader Baljit Gill in Surrey, B.C., asks:  “There is a lot of talk about earthquakes on the West Coast and many questions:  Are we ready? I’m not familiar with how to behave when an earthquake strikes.”  Globe B.C’s Online Editor Mason Wright says earthquake preparedness “emerges periodically at the provincial government level.”  He says, unfortunately, “the conclusions are hardly ever satisfactory.” Wright explains:

The most recent update, in mid-October, came from the Ministry of Justice, which was asked by The Globe and Mail about an auditor-general’s report in March that warned B.C. was not prepared for a catastrophic earthquake. Even more troubling: then-auditor-general Russ Jones’s warning echoed a similar message from his office 17 years ago.

“One of the main causes for this lack of progress is that preparing for a catastrophic earthquake has not been made a priority,” Mr. Jones wrote in March.

In the October update, there were small signs of renewed attention being paid to protecting British Columbians in the event of a major tremor. The ministry said work has been completed on two of the nine recommendations issued in the March audit: the agency Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC) now has a strategic plan in place to meet B.C.’s long-term goals for preparedness, and it has prioritized its procedures to ensure it is prepared to respond.

But seven other recommendations were only considered in progress. In one recommendation that wasn’t mentioned by the ministry, the government was tasked with making sure EMBC had adequate resources (read: funding) to reach the expected level of preparedness. Several other recommendations for EMBC were ongoing, including an annual report on the state of preparedness, constant evaluation of procedures both within the agency and outside it, and regular exercises to help prepare the public and test current procedures.

 One existing exercise was described as “limited” in the report. The ShakeOut earthquake drill, which has been happening annually for four years, is when participants are asked to practice the “Drop, Cover and Hold On” method of protecting themselves during an earthquake. The last of these occurred in B.C. schools and workplaces on Oct. 16. Notably, the audit found this program “not adequate”, since EMBC fails to track the drill’s public education impact.

The city of Vancouver gives sessions on planning for an earthquake and its aftermath, a program that spikes in popularity when strong earthquakes happen in the vicinity, such as the Haida Gwaii quake of October 2012.

 So the short answer to your question, ‘are we ready?’ is no. But maybe the province’s zombie preparedness guide will help?

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