2007 — Residents
shouldn’t count on any immediate help from local police, ambulance
and fire services if a large-scale earthquake hits the British Columbia
coast, says Brian Inglis, task force leader for the Vancouver Urban Search
|Plate tectonics: Click on image
"The team was designed for emergency response in Vancouver, but
during a catastrophic earthquake, I have no illusions that they would
be able to come out," Inglis says. "The bridges could be
out, roads impassable, and they would have their own families to take
He saw this problem firsthand while doing search and rescue work in
Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. The Vancouver
Urban Search and Rescue Team was the first Canadian team to respond
to the disaster. Inglis says many local Louisianan police and firefighters
show up as they faced their own problems at home.
‘Big one’ could be a reality
Garry Rogers, seismologist for the Geological Survey of Canada, says
that while the chances of the ‘Big one’ occurring are slim,
it’s still a possibility.
Two months ago, he contacted emergency planners and media to let them
know he and his co-workers were observing Episodic
Tremor and Slip along
the Cascadia subduction zone – an
event which is believed to be a precursor to a large earthquake.
The seismologist’s observations created a media frenzy as newspapers
ran with headlines of "BC braces for possible earthquake," and "BC
put on alert for huge quake." Rogers says he was surprised by
the hype. These events occur every 14 months and he has notified
the media of these tremors and slips before.
He also says the media made it seem as if he was predicting the ‘Big
imminent. "We can’t predict earthquakes," Rogers says
every time you have one of these slips, you have more chance of having
a large earthquake."
Rogers says if the "Big One" were to happen, Vancouver
Island would be hardest hit. He says older buildings would collapse,
sewage pipes would burst, bridges would fall, and a large tsunami
Police expanding emergency program
Gale McMahon, who works as an emergency planning officer for the Vancouver
Police Department’s Emergency Planning Unit, says her team is
working to ensure police are ready and able to respond.
|Damage in B.C. could match that in Kobe,
Japan after a 1995 earthquake.
For example, McMahon says she and four other co-workers have started
providing emergency preparedness classes to officers’ families.
Classes teach light urban search and rescue skills and help families
identify potential local hazards in their neighbourhoods, such as a
river prone to flooding.
"Personnel on duty won’t be worth anything if they’re
worried about their families," McMahon says. "It’s
about having supplies ready at home so they’ll know their families
are taken care of."
For officers who are off-duty during a large-scale earthquake and can't
report for work due to downed bridges or impassable roads, McMahon says
they would be expected to offer assistance in their own neighbourhoods.
She says her unit is working on a plan to keep
officers in this situation in communication with the
central command post.
Daniel Stevens, emergency planning coordinator for the City of Vancouver,
says there are plans in place to help local police, fire, and ambulance
workers move around after a natural disaster.
Dealing with destroyed infrastructure
"There are signs on our streets which designate roads for first-responders," he
says. "We all have disaster response route logos on the back of
our driver’s licences, giving us the authority to use the roads."
Stevens says if bridges collapse, first-responders carrying these driver’s
licences will be given priority on emergency ferries. Police officers,
firemen, government officials, construction workers can have these
licenses, he says.
Stevens says local police, firefighters, and emergency workers have
also been told to go directly to the Emergency Operations Centre – a
well-known building located in southeast Vancouver.
|'In a large-scale disaster,
local responders won’t be able to meet the demand for everyone.
They’ll be working on the most critical situations.'
If communication equipment is destroyed, Stevens says
the city has a back-up radio system, which the Centre will
use to coordinate the response effort with other municipal and provincial
emergency operations centres. It's housed in a mobile vehicle so it
can be moved if the Centre is damaged, Stevens says. The city
also has a secretly-located back-up radio facility located in a fire
If local emergency workers cannot meet the demand for help during
a large-scale disaster, Stevens says the municipalities would request
help or supplies from the province. The
province would then ask the
federal government and the Canadian Forces
to step in if it were unable to meet the need.
Overall, Stevens says it’s important for residents to be prepared
to be on their own for the first 72 hours at a minimum.
"In a large-scale disaster, local responders won’t be able
to meet the demand for everyone. They’ll be working on the most
critical situations," he says. "If neighbourhoods are prepared,
it will relieve some stress."