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Tofino and Ucluelet host high ground hikes with BC Earthquake Alliance

B.C.’s Tsunami Preparedness Week ran from April 14-20
Ucluelet fire chief Rick Geddes joined Christine Buttkus and Rob Friesen of the BC Earthquake Alliance on Sunday at an Emergency Preparedness Fair to help locals get up to speed on earthquake and tsunami risks. Tofino and Ucluelet both held educational festivities and High Ground Hikes to help launch the West Coast into Tsunami Preparedness Week from April 14-20. (Andrew Bailey photo)

West Coast first responders brought a splash of fun to an oft-considered dry subject matter in an effort to keep locals and visitors equally dry if an emergency hits.

High Ground Hikes and Emergency Preparedness Fairs were held in Tofino and Ucluelet on April 13 and 14 respectively, launching the West Coast into B.C.’s annual Tsunami Preparedness Week, which ran from April 14-20.

“The importance of this is for locals and for visitors to know the risks that we have. Wildfires are a consideration out here, but not like it is if you’re up in the Okanagan and Cariboo area. The tsunami is our highest risk that we have here, so it’s really important that people understand what they can do to help better prepare themselves in case we do have a big event,” Ucluelet fire chief Rock Geddes told the Westerly News during Sunday’s event.

“It’s important to note that the district has limited resources. When the big one does happen people are going to have to be self sufficient…People have to understand that we can’t necessarily get to you right away anytime there is an event. Having people do their own preparedness is just going to make everybody safer and hopefully decrease the confusion and pandemonium during an event.”

BC Earthquake Alliance executive director Christine Buttkus attended both Tofino and Ucluelet’s events armed with ample information as well as prizes to hand out to participants.

“We are really excited about the local partnerships and welcome we have received. Prior to the launch of the tour, we continued to hear about gaps in earthquake preparedness education in underserved communities and the positive impact of simulated experiences on learning about earthquake and tsunami risks and preparedness,” Buttkus said. “With support from the presenting sponsor, the Insurance Bureau of Canada and our partner Canadian Red Cross, it is possible for us to visit communities who would otherwise not be able to access this kind of education.”

The alliance scored a variety of sponsorships to bring their popular Quake Cottage mobile earthquake simulator to give West Coast residents and visitors a taste of just how much movement to expect during an earthquake.

“We produce a magnitude 8 equivalent for only about 40 seconds. In real life it could be three to three-and-a-half minutes of that amount of shaking,” the alliance’s Rob Friesen told the Westerly outside the simulator.

“People really appreciate getting that experience safely and it’s always a shocker for them on how the ground actually could move. Beneath our feet, we think it’s stable but there is this risk…We don’t teach fear, it’s not about fear, it’s about being prepared.”

He said the simulator gives participants a taste of just how much movement to expect during an earthquake event.

“The purpose of it is to make that touchpoint where people can experience it safely and realize how much the earth can move and what may be compromised in their workplace or in their home. What can fall down? How could you be injured? Most injuries happen from falling objects or broken glass,” he said. “We educate on drop, cover, hold. Get under a table, hold on, wait until the shaking stops…This really makes it real, especially for kids in school where they do the drills but they don’t really know why they’re doing the drill. They know it’s about an earthquake but they’ve never felt it. This is a great experience for them educationally…It’s a very powerful demonstration.”

Buttkus noted an earthquake could be the first warning of an impending tsunami and that after dropping, covering and holding on, people should have a route to high ground mapped out so they know where they’re heading.

“We want the whole community to be prepared and thinking about not only what they can do to protect themselves and their families, but also how they can work together as neighbourhoods and communities so they can be more resilient in the face of emergency,” she said.

She added residents should be prepared to be self-sufficient for 7-14 days.

“Everyone benefits, especially here in tsunami country, from having a grab and go bag so that they’re ready to go on short notice. The better prepared you are at home, the more comfortable you’re going to be in the face of any emergency,” she said. “Our Shakeout Committee would say if you’re prepared for an earthquake, you’re prepared for anything.”

She said the group received sponsorships to take their educational campaign on the road with stops in Victoria, Port Alberni, Tofino, Ucluelet and Ehateshat before heading back to the mainland.

“The folks in Tofino and Ucluelet have given us an amazing welcome,” she said, adding Ucluelet won the prize for most dogs in attendance at an emergency preparedness event. “We’ve had all ages and everyone’s been really receptive and warm. Everybody’s been fabulous…People have been fabulous. Lots of people have taken away new next steps to practice their preparedness and increase their preparedness. We’ve been really happy to be here.”

Ucluelet’s event began with a High Ground Hike from Big Beach to Ucluelet Secondary School at 10 a.m. followed by a slew of activities and information outside the town’s fire hall across the street and Geddes was quick to credit Deputy Chief Markus McRurie for helping organize the day.

“The turnout was great. I’d love to see it packed, that’s always our goal, but it was nice to see a lot of people out and a lot of families, which is great because the way to get through to parents often is through the kids,” Geddes said. “If the kids grow up learning about tsunami preparedness then they’re going to turn into adults that know about tsunami preparedness and just continue the cycle and make it easier for everybody.”

He thanked the members of Ucluelet Fire Rescue, formerly known as the Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade, for handing over their weekend time for the cause as well as the other agencies that took part to make the events a success.

Both days included draws and prizes with youth receiving plenty of swag from various response organizations and Geddes said it’s important to find fun ways to highlight vital information.

He added that the mobile simulator’s fun, roller-coaster-like, experience provided a solid draw for local rescue and education groups to distribute important information.

“We try to make it fun. I think with anything like this that some people could consider a dry subject, the more fun we can make it the more interest, hopefully, we’re going to have,” he said.

The local Canadian Rangers also attended the event to showcase their capabilities to assist the region with emergency preparedness and disaster response.

“Awareness is a big thing. A lot of people might not be aware that the Canadian Rangers are here or what we do,” Patrol Commander Emily Coombs told the Westerly. “We’re just trying to raise awareness that the military is here to assist. We’re already here and we are liaisons with the community and the military and are able to keep that flow of information going so that, if the army is requested, they have that background information already, they already know what the situation is here and we’re able to prepare so that we can respond even faster with what’s required.”

She added the crew recently completed light urban search and rescue and disaster response training and rapid damage assessment.

The Rangers are currently recruiting new members and anyone interested is encouraged to reach out to Coombs at

The crew currently has 18 members across the region with another two in the application stage and can fill up to 34 spots and a variety of training opportunities are available.

“There’s lots of opportunities and we have our Junior Canadian Ranger Patrol as well and we’re always looking for help with them. The sky is the limit with what they’re able to do. Lots of opportunities to join the Canadian Rangers,” she said. “We’re all kind of like-minded that we want to be there for our communities. This is another way to give back to our community and be a part of something bigger. I love being a Canadian Ranger. I’ve been doing it for eight years now, but some have been in the patrol for over 30 years.”

She added joining provides opportunities to travel and visit other communities, learn about the issues they’re facing and how they’re addressing them.

“There’s things that we can bring back to our own communities as well. We’re always just kind of thinking out of the box, coming up with solutions and being there to help,” she said.

Members of the Canadian Red Cross also attended.

“We’re a local team that supports people who are evacuated from their homes in times of an emergency,” said Red Cross member Christine Brice. “It’s important for us to be here so people have that visibility and they know that there’s some support. Living here, the key thing is that people are prepared ahead of time. The amount of support we can provide can be limited if we have something that affects the whole West Coast. The more prepared people are in advance, then the better off as a whole community we will be.”

Red Cross Regional Manager Gary Carleton was in town to debrief with volunteers about support for a local couple who recently lost their home to a fire in Ucluelet. He told the Westerly the team offers assistance for the first 72 hours after an emergency and anyone interested in lending a hand is encouraged to visit for information on how to get involved.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to work with people in possibly the lowest point of their lives. They may have just lost their home and their possessions and they find themselves on the side of the road not expecting this and there’s trained volunteers that are there to support them during that very, very tough time,” he said.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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