BC not prepared for earthquake; West Coast prepared to lead

BC Auditor General Russ Jones recently released a “Catastrophic Earthquake Report” slamming the provincial government for its lack of emergency preparedness progress and for leaving BC unprepared for an earthquake event.

"A tough report offers a great opportunity, and this one in particular will help us continue to identify what work needs to be done to best prepare B.C. communities and families for a major earthquake," said BC’s Attorney General Suzanne Anton.

The province’s confusing emergency communication methods were put on blast in October 2012 when Ucluelet and Tofino interpreted a Tsunami advisory bulletin significantly differently.

Tofino sounded its tsunami sirens and evacuated its residents to safe ground while Ucluelet did not.

Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving said the event should have made it clear to the province that its communication methods need an upgrade.

Irving was pleased to see Emergency Management BC (EMBC), Environment Canada, and Natural Resources Canada host two public education forums on the West Coast last month but he said the province has moved at a glacial pace to address its communication concerns.

“We’re somewhat concerned that they haven’t moved very far in that effort so it’s good to see them actually out in the communities expressing the issues and hearing feedback,” he said.

West Coast officials view Jones’ “Catastrophic Earthquake Report” as an opportunity to take the lead and lobby for a stronger emergency communication system, according to Irving.  

He said Ucluelet is partnering with Tofino and the West Coast’s First Nations communities to deliver a strong message to the province that it is time to implement firm communication strategies.

“We’re hoping to take to the province a rather pointed recommendation that they use the West Coast as a pilot to demonstrate exactly how it would work so other communities can start to build up some of their capacity in a realistic fashion,” he said.

“It’s better to be aggressive and a nuisance now then have something very serious happen and then say ‘we should have done something,’ so we’re going to be very pushy this year.”  

He hopes a meeting with the province will occur before the end of June.

 â€œThis area does need to be prepared and we’re going to present to the province a package that I think that will be very easy to accomplish, and inexpensive as well, to try to deal with some of those response issues,” Irving said. “Quite frankly if they say, “we’ll think about it” we’re going to try to move ahead anyway.”

He said an effective communication strategy is an immediate need because an emergency could happen tomorrow.

“We talk about it all the time; let’s start implementing something, even if it’s not perfect let’s get it out there and then help it evolve. That’s why a pilot in this region would be an enormous benefit,” Irving said. “We’ve talked about it enough; it’s time to get these processes on the ground.”

In BC, all levels of government share emergency planning responsibilities and the province will work with local authorities, First Nations and non-governmental organizations to become better prepared for an emergency, according to Anton.

"In British Columbia, being prepared for an emergency is a shared responsibility that begins at home with families and communities. Everyone has a role to play,” she said.

“The immediate actions we are taking at Emergency Management BC in response to the Auditor General’s report, along with the consultation and the public education campaign, will all form part of a long-term plan that supports practical and responsible actions for all partners involved in earthquake preparedness and response."

Ucluelet has a slew of educational activities lined up for Emergency Preparedness Week, May 4-10, and local’s can get a leg up by reading about the district’s emergency management structure and response plan in next week’s Westerly News.

reporter@westerlynews.ca